The Scarlet Knights are 2-5 overall and 1-2 in the Big East after a close win against Connecticut. Rutgers faces No. 17 Pittsburgh (5-1, 2-0) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.
"Rutgers might be the best two-win team around,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "When you watch them on tape, their running back, Kordell Young, has gotten better week after week. And I think he's probably as healthy as he's been all year.
"He sure looked that way and had some very nice runs against Connecticut. (And) with them winning the game, it was a big momentum boost for them, I'm sure. And defensively, I personally think that they're playing as good as any defense that I've had a chance to watch.''
Until it knocked off UConn 12-10 last week, Rutgers' only win was against Morgan State. Fresno State, North Carolina, Navy, West Virginia and Cincinnati all have wins against the Scarlet Knights already this season. But they are 3-0 the past three seasons against Pitt.
"The first year, they beat us handily up there, and it was turnovers,'' Wannstedt said. "We (gave up) the punt return for a touchdown and fumbled the kickoff. We were never in the game.''
Pitt and Rutgers were close into the fourth quarter two years ago at Heinz Field, but then Ray Rice broke a long run to seal the Panthers' fate. Last season at Rutgers, Pitt had a chance to win the game at the end and actually appeared to score the winning touchdown. But a questionable call thwarted the comeback.
"We had an opportunity and just didn't finish the game,'' Wannstedt said. "So, I think it's just a matter of focusing on ourselves, making sure that every opportunity we get that we play smart football. And we don't give them anything cheap.''
Pitt senior left offensive guard C.J. Davis is 0-3 against Rutgers during his career, so it's difficult for him to understand how Rutgers has fallen on such hard times this season.
"I don't know what their story is this year, but they've always had a great defense since I've been here,'' Davis said. "And we haven't beaten them all three years. So, I'm very surprised with their record, but I guess the ball just doesn't bounce your way sometimes. I can tell you from experience that it can happen.
"So, maybe that's what's happening with Rutgers. And we're definitely not taking these guys lightly. Our games with them the past couple years, we were right there in the fourth quarter and just didn't finish off the game. But we're playing pretty well right now, and we're going to try to keep it rolling against Rutgers this week.''
Pitt fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop agreed that Rutgers isn't as bad as its record, noting that the Scarlet Knights have been in every game into the fourth quarter. The only thing is that they just haven't executed well enough to pull the games out in the end.
But since it's a Big East game, McKillop said, the records can be ignored.
"We're back into Big East play, and we're looking forward to that,'' McKillop said. "We know that Rutgers has had our number the past couple years, but ... one of the things that the coaches have let us know is that we control our own destiny. It's tougher when you have to hope that other teams lose here and there.
"We know that if we take care of business and win each game, we can reach our goal of winning the Big East championship. Then, we'll see what happens after that. But we just want to take it one game at a time. Rutgers is a good team. They've been in every game this year, but they didn't execute in the fourth quarter.
"They have some momentum after last week's win,'' McKillop added, "and we haven't played a Big East game for a while now. So, this is an important game for us, and we have to bring our (best) game to beat them.''
And that should finally put Pitt over the top against Rutgers.
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