The Panthers (4-6 overall, 2-3 in the Big East) face USF (8-3, 3-3) Saturday at noon at Heinz Field. Pitt faced the Bulls in 2001 as a novice Division I-A program and lost, nearly getting Coach Walt Harris fired after a 1-5 start, and USF won last year as well in Tampa, Fla. to even the series 2-2.
The Bulls were ranked as high as No. 2 nationally after recording six straight wins to open this season, including an upset victory against West Virginia. However, losses at Rutgers and Connecticut and at home to Cincinnati followed to derail any hope for a BCS bid and Conference title.
"That doesn't matter,'' Pittsburgh redshirt junior middle linebacker Scott McKillop said. "They're still a great team with a lot of talented players, especially on offense, so we'll definitely have a tough game. And even though they had a tough couple games, they're back on track now.''
Sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe clearly is USF's offensive star. He leads the Bulls in rushing with 765 net yards (970 without sacks and other lost yardage) and in passing with 2,314 yards. Grothe has run for nine touchdowns and also completed 59 percent of his passes for 13 scores. He has tossed 12 interceptions as well.
"It's not too often that you come into a game where the quarterback is the leading rusher on the team,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "(And) a lot of it is designed runs, but a lot of it is scrambles. From the game last year, it was probably the one game last year where I thought we came out of the gate not ready to play. Even the games that we lost last year, we came out and started fast.
"That was the one where we didn't. If you remember, we kicked the ball out of bounds, and they ran a fake punt on us. (Grothe) made two big plays in that game scrambling. We had our arms around him once or twice, and he spun out and one time went for 30 yards and another time went for over 20. He's very athletic and very tough.
"It's amazing that as many times that he gets hit, the guy's still the starting quarterback,'' Wannstedt added. "That doesn't happen. (WVU quarterback) Pat White doesn't get hit much, but even Pat White has been banged up and has had to come out of a couple of games. This guy has carried the ball as much as Pat has. He's a tough guy, a tough football player.''
Freshman running back Mike Ford is also dangerous. He has 574 rushing yards and 10 scores. Grothe spreads his passes around to about 15 different receivers, but, and it's fairly well-balanced with eight players collecting double-figures in catches. Carlton Mitchell, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound frosh wideout, leads with 32 catches and four touchdowns. Junior Taurus Johnson and sophomore Jessie Hester Jr. are next with 29 and 28 catches, respectively, for three and four scores.
Defensively, USF primarily utilizes a four-three scheme with two solid cornerbacks to allow for more blitzing. And since Pitt will go with a freshman quarterback, no matter who starts between Kevan Smith and Pat Bostick, the Panthers should expect even more pressure than usual.
"I expect a lot of pressure on us and for them to try and lock us down,'' Wannstedt said. "We'll see if we can make some throws into tight coverage, that's what it's going to come down to from a passing standpoint. They're not going to sit back and just play zone and let us catch the ball.''
One can't discuss the USF defense without mentioning sophomore defensive end George Selvie. He has an amazing 14.5 sacks and 30.5 total stops behind the line to go with three forced fumbles and a block.
"You need to know where he is all the time,'' Wannstedt said. "Most of the time, he's lined up on the right side. I will say that I feel good about our two matchups. He'll either be matched up on Jeff Otah or he's going to be matched up on Mike McGlynn.
"So, for the most part, we have two guys there who will be ready to play. We'll do some other things from how we attack them, run-wise, and how we attack them pass-wise to try to help ourselves out a little bit, too.''
Linebackers Tyrone McKenzie and and Ben Moffitt lead USF's defense with 93 and 90 tackles, respectively. The Bulls have 27 sacks and 20 interceptions. Senior cornerback Trae Williams has five picks, with two going for scores, and 10 pass breakups. Moffitt has three picks with one touchdown.
Grothe Gives Pitt Defense Headaches
Panther More Top Stories
Preseason ACC poll: Where does Pitt fall in?Pitt has been selected to finish 12th in the preseason ACC basketball poll.
Panther More1:35 PM
Four-star guard Marcus Carr commits to PittKevin Stallings and his staff picked up a 2017 commitment from Marcus Carr.
Scout Hoops7:43 AM
THE FRIENDLY FOE: Scouting Virginia TechPantherMore.com gives you insight from Jason Stamm, publisher of The VT Zone, Scout.com's Virginia Tech site, in anticipation of Pitt's Thursday night showdown with Virginia Tech.
Panther MoreYesterday at 10:05 PM
Pitt vying for top-ranked OT from VirginiaMekhi Becton's recruitment won't end for some time, but Pitt has made his top 10.
Scout FootballMonday at 5:11 PM