In fact, when Pittsburgh (8-3 overall, 4-2 in the Conference) visits Connecticut (7-4, 3-3) today at noon at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., it quickly will become evident that the two teams are strikingly similar.
The Panthers predicate their success on hard-nosed, aggressive defense with stout play from its front four and a power running game led by high-profile back LeSean McCoy. UConn leads the Big East in sacks, interceptions and total defense, while tailback Donald Brown tops the nation in rushing.
"They don't do a whole lot of things different than what we do,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "They rush four and do a nice job up front. They'll do a little bit of pressure stuff with the linebackers but not a ton. They've got four down linemen that I remember watching through the course of last year that have the same philosophy that we have.''
Strong-side linebacker Scott Lutrus tops UConn with 90 total tackles, including 54 solo, while defensive end Cody Brown leads the Huskies and the Big East with 10 sacks and 13.5 stops behind the line. Backup defensive end Lindsey Witten and defensive end Julius Williams have six each.
Linebacker Robert McClain and cornerback Lawrence Wilson have three picks each to lead a defense that has 16 total interceptions. Safety Robert Vaughn strongly supports the run defense as well as the pass in UConn's scheme. Pitt quarterback Bill Stull has watched extensive videotape on the play-makers in the Huskies' secondary.
"It's very important that I make good decisions in our passing game,'' Stull said. "(And) they have a very (rugged) defense overall. The stats don't like at this point in the season. They're in the top three in all the defensive categories, so it's going to be a hard-fought, 15-round football game.
"We're the top two rushing teams, and they're in the top two at stopping the run. So, this is going to be a physical football game. Both teams know that the other one is going to run the ball, and we'll have to try to stop each other.''
While Pitt fans likely wouldn't trade McCoy for any back in the country, UConn is just as dedicated to Donald Brown. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound redshirt junior has 1,633 yards (5.4 average) and 16 touchdowns rushing. He is their running game, because senior quarterback Tyler Lorenzen is next with 234 yards and two scores despite playing in just seven games.
"(Brown) is an excellent back, who can make people miss, and he probably has one of the meanest stiff-arms in the nation,'' Pitt fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop said. "I think, during their game against Cincinnati, he stiff-armed he same player twice on the same play.
"He's a powerful runner, who runs behind a big offensive line, and their offense is similar to what we try to do on offense. So, he's a good back, and he's still young. So, it'll be a big challenge, but it's one that myself and our defense is looking forward to this week.''
Wannstedt believed that Lorenzen's size (6-4, 224) and athleticism makes UConn's offense a little more versatile. The Huskies run a lot of movement passes with him, more than when redshirt sophomore Zach Frazer played. But now that Lorenzen is healthy, Frazer probably isn't an option.
Lorenzen has thrown for just 740 yards and two touchdowns in seven games with a completion rate near 54 percent. His top receivers are sophomore fullback Anthony Sherman and redshirt freshman wideout Kashif Moore with 24 catches each. Moore and fifth-year senior wideout Ellis Gaulden (6-2, 193) are the only big-play threats. They have one TD catch each.
"I think their passing game is a little bit underrated,'' Pitt sophomore safety Dom DeCicco said. "They run the ball so much that a team can be zeroed in on that so much that it makes them open to a big pass, so we have to guard against that. We need to come up to stop the run, but we can't give up any big plays, either.''
With so many similarities to Pitt, the UConn defense probably is thinking the same thing.
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