Wannstedt Says WVU Is No. 1

The Pitt football team is a four-touchdown underdog against second-ranked West Virginia Saturday at 7:45 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va., but Panthers head coach Dave Wannstedt believed that his team was not the one that would be feeling the pressure this week.

"They're the best team in the country, without a doubt, if I had a vote,'' Wannstedt said, noting that he does not vote in the USA Today coaches' poll. "In our minds, we're playing the No. 1 team in the country. They're the most talented team, and they've played the best.''

The Mountaineers, who are 10-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big East, can clinch a berth in the BCS championship game with a win against Pittsburgh (4-7, 2-4). WVU is ranked second to Missouri in the Associated Press writers' poll and No. 2 in the BCS poll as well and have everything to lose. The Panthers, basically, are playing out the season.

"I think protecting (their ranking) is the toughest,'' Wannstedt said. "It's easier to climb the mountain than to stay on top of it. Everybody's climbing it, but once you get on top you've got to stay there, and that can be very difficult. ... So, I think that's a challenge in itself. And it takes a lot of things like keeping your feet on the ground and making sure that you don't forget how you got there.

"More times than not, in the college game at Miami and USC, we were the team trying to protect against being upset. But we just wanted to focus on what we were doing and tried not to get caught up in too much on the emotion and do something you haven't done all year. That's the theme if you're on top.

"In our case, we're going to go down there and play loose,'' Wannstedt added. "And we're going to have fun with this thing, and we're going to enjoy this night. And we're going to play as hard as we can. But before we get to that point, it's critical that we have good practices and good meetings. And it's not about doing more, it's about doing things better.''

Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, who also has played and coached in a handful of Backyard Brawls with the Panthers, believed that the better teams want to be challenged on and off the field. And West Virginia appears to be playing with a high level of confidence right now.

"So, playing mistake-free football is the key,'' Cavanaugh said. "Trying to eliminate penalties and clearly eliminating turnovers and executing a game plan that gives you a chance to win as well. We're not going down there just to keep the score close. We're not going down there just to put on a good show. We're going down there to win.

"That's definitely our goal. ... I think we've got a good game plan, but our kids have to buy into it. If that happens, then we can beat anybody. And there are always going to be upsets, and we're certainly the team that's not supposed to win. So, we'll go down there and give our best effort, and I think that'll be good enough if we execute.''

Wannstedt also addressed former WVU coach Don Nehlen's comments that Pitt can't compete with the Mountaineers in recruiting right now.

"I know this,'' Wannstedt said, "I played in this game before Don Nehlen got there, and it was a rivalry then. And that's all I'll say. ... We have competed with them in recruiting, and we will continue to do that. They've got it going right now, but we know where we've got to go and how to get there.''

Wannstedt noted that while many Pitt players are from this area and were already knowledgeable about the Backyard Brawl and all aspects concerning the rivalry, he realizes that some Panthers were not as certain. So, Pitt strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris and offensive line coach Paul Dunn (1980-82) have told rivalry stories and a guest speaker, Dave Havern (1968-71), will relate his Friday.

During practice this week, freshmen running backs Greg Williams and Shariff Harris are portraying WVU's Steve Slaton. Frosh fullback Henry Hynoski is Owen Schmitt, and frosh wideout Aundre Wright has the starring role as Mountaineers quarterback Pat White.

Panther More Top Stories