Pitt-WVU Preview

The 100th version of the Backyard Brawl between the Pitt and West Virginia football teams might be nothing like the previous editions, which the Panthers won 59 times, lost 37 and tied three.

At least the Pittsburgh (4-7 overall, 2-4 in the Big East) players are hopeful it doesn't resemble the past two versions when the Mountaineers put up 45 points on the Panthers and won both games going away. Or could it be like the 2004 game when Pitt stunned WVU 16-13 to win a share of the Conference title and claim its BCS bid to the Fiesta Bowl.

Then there's maybe the most famous Pitt win in recent history, the 1997 contest at WVU when the Panthers stunned the Mountaineers 41-38 in triple-overtime to earn a bowl bid in Walt Harris' first season. This year's game is Saturday at 7:45 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va., and it likely will take on its own complexion.

"They're ranked No. 2 right now, and they're definitely a very explosive team,'' redshirt freshman defensive end Greg Romeus said. "So, they're going to be a big challenge for our defense. They have a lot of offensive threats, but we're playing pretty well now and look forward to the challenge.

"Last year, I watched from the sideline, but I've seen them a lot this year. And we've talked a lot about this game all season. We've waited all year for this game, so we're really looking forward to it. It should be a lot of fun, and we can't wait to get down there to play the Backyard Brawl.''

Some might believe that the Panthers are attempting to bite off more than they can chew, because WVU has a talented offense led by quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton. But the Mountaineers (10-1, 5-1), who should earn a BCS title shot with a win, are more than a two-man show.

WVU also has talented freshman Noel Devine to share time at tailback and bruising fullback Owen Schmitt to go with a speedy wideout corps when White decides to pass. Darius Renaud leads that group with 56 catches and 11 touchdowns, but the catalyst for the offense is White. Slaton is a bonus.

"When two players on your team are preseason hyped for the Heisman Trophy, you know they have some talented players that are well-coached,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Their speed is just so much different than what you're going to see at any other time during the year, particularly at quarterback. (White) is a great player for what they do.''

White leads WVU with 1,144 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, while Slaton has 1,042 and 17 scores. Devine has 508 yards, a 10-yard average, and four touchdowns despite a midseason slump. Slaton also is the No. 2 receiver with 24 catches and one TD, while Dorrell Jalloh has 22 catches and a score.

"Pat White, you just have to control him the best that you can,'' redshirt junior outside linebacker Adam Gunn said. "We're playing a lot better this year, and we look forward to going playing them and all their great players.

"They make so many big plays on offense that it's tough on a defense, so we have to be ready on every play. (But) it would be big for us to win this game. For us to knock off West Virginia, it would give us a big boost into next season. And beating a team ranked that high is always a good thing.''

Wannstedt believed that WVU's defense, which utilizes the rare 3-5-3 scheme, was underrated and playing pretty well this season. Its most points allowed were 31 to a high-powered Louisville offense, but it has given up just 17.6 points per game, 103 yards rushing and less than 200 yards passing.

The clear-cut leader is junior middle linebacker Reed Williams with 87 total tackles and 38 solo stops. Expect seniors Mark Magro and Johnny Dingle to pressure Pitt freshman quarterback Pat Bostick a good deal, as they have eight sacks each. Magro, a strong-side linebacker, has 12 total stops behind the line, while Dingle, an end, has 17. Safeties Ryan Mundy and Eric Wicks have three interceptions each.

"They have a lot of talented players on both sides of the ball, and some of them are former WPIAL players,'' Pitt redshirt junior middle linebacker Scott McKillop said. "So, we'll probably talk before the game and be friends after it. But during the game, we don't have any friends on the other side.

"We feel that it's a real big game for us and a real big game for WVU. We know it's officially our last game of the season. There's no chance for a bowl game, so we just want to go down there and give them our best game.

"I think no matter what the record would be for both teams, this would be a big game,'' McKillop added. "But with the situation like it is for West Virginia, with them being ranked so high, we're really looking forward to playing against them and beating them even more. We always come with our A game against WVU, but this time we want to take it up another notch.''

And that definitely should make this year's Backyard Brawl unique.

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