Pitt-North Carolina State Preview

The Pitt football team defeated three straight opponents with little trouble to open this season, but the Panthers are about to face their toughest test.

Pittsburgh (3-0) visits North Carolina State (2-1) today at 3:30 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., and the Panthers try to go 4-0 for the first time since the 2000 season.

"It would be big from a confidence standpoint and feeling real good about ourselves,'' Pitt freshman tailback Dion Lewis said. "We have a lot of great expectations, so a win (today) would be big for us and keep us motivated.

"We would feel real good about ourselves after a win this week, and it would help us stay hungry. So, this is a big challenge for us this week, but we're ready for it. We're working very hard and are well-prepared.''

N.C. State has a lot to concern Pitt with a defense ranked second nationally and a quarterback, redshirt sophomore Russell Wilson, who has thrown an NCAA-record 329 passes without an interception.

Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti discussed both topics since he prepared for the Wolfpack defense and recruited Wilson while at North Carolina several years ago. Cignetti practically gushed while talking about Wilson.

"Oh, wow, Russell,'' Cignetti said. "Russell was a young man I recruited while I was at the University of North Carolina. I remember the first time I met Russell in my office. He's a tremendous human being, a tremendous athlete. I probably got a chance to spend about 3-4 days with Russell. He came to our summer camp and had a tremendous workout.

"The plan that we had, we recruited Mike Paulus, and he committed to us. (But) we decided to offer Russell. ... Then, we were fired, and I called my brother (Curt) to tell him about Russell, and now he's at North Carolina State. (But) I'm very proud of Russell. There are guys you recruit that you kind of follow their career. And there's no doubt in my mind (that) he'll be successful.

"(Wilson) reminds me a little bit of Jeff Blake, who I coached at New Orleans,'' Cignetti added. "He's a good athlete who's a quarterback. We recruited him and the quarterback who's at Georgia Tech. The reason people didn't recruit Russell was his height (nearly 5-11), but that's overrated in college. ... He has pocket presence, leadership, and he's functionally intelligent in the classroom.''

Wilson has completed better than 66 percent of his passes for 647 yards and eight touchdowns. Tight end George Bryan is his top receiver with 12 catches for 127 yards and two scores. Wideouts Jarvis Williams and Darrell Davis have seven catches each, but they're the downfield threats with 17 yards per catch.

Fifth-year senior running back Toney Baker is the leading rusher with 169 yards, four touchdowns and 5.6 yards per attempt. Wilson isn't necessarily a running quarterback, but his elusiveness allows the Wolfpack to move him around in the pocket and bide time before throwing the ball.

"They have a big line, so this certainly is a bigger challenge than that we've faced so far this year,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "They beat some good teams last year. (And) they have three 6-4 receivers, while we're somewhere between midgets and Smurfs. But we're good players.''

Defensively, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt believed the Wolfpack is similar to his own with a strong line leading the way.

"They're not a huge blitz team, but they'll bring some pressure and ... play different fronts,'' Wannstedt said. "But they move around a little more.''

"They also have an excellent pass rush,'' Pitt senior left guard Joe Thomas said. "They're well-coached, and they disguise their fronts and their blitzes real well. So, we've got to make sure that we pay attention to their linemen to make sure we know what fronts they're coming out in.''

The N.C. State defense has nine sacks and 21 total stops behind the line with two interceptions and two fumbles. The Wolfpack has a veteran D-line, but two freshmen in the secondary. Fifth-year senior Willie Young has three sacks and 15 tackles, while senior safety Bobby Floyd leads with 16 total stops.

Freshman Brandan Bishop is the starting free safety, while redshirt frosh Earl Wolff is the strong safety. Wolff is fourth on the team with 15 tackles.

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