Smash-Mouth Football

The Pitt and Connecticut football programs have only been rivals since 2004, but several aspects were quickly established with the trend continuing this year.

Both teams like to run the ball to key to their offense and believe that stopping the run is critical to playing good defense, so it should be a physical game when Pittsburgh (4-1, 1-0) faces UConn (3-1, 0-0) in a Big East Conference matchup Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.

"Connecticut is off to a fast start, and they're playing great defense,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Even though they've changed (offensive) coordinators and are doing some different things personnel-wise this year, they really aren't any different than in years past. So, this will be a tough ball game for us here. We know that and know what to expect.

"The last time they were here they played real well and beat us pretty handily. So, we know the challenge that we're about to face. ... This will be our most physical game of the year, bar none. Our players know that. We've always had physical games against Connecticut, and I think it has something to do with the style of play. They don't play touch football, and neither do we.''

And that suits fullback Henry Hynoski just fine.

"I can't wait for games like this,'' Hynoski said. "Line up, call the play and then go smack somebody in the mouth. It'll be great. It would be better if it rains, so it's a little sloppy out there. This is a perfect matchup for us.''

Pitt's offensive line will be seriously tested this week as well, but it's nothing that it hasn't been through every week during practice.

"They're pretty strong, but they're just like our guys,'' Pitt left offensive tackle Jason Pinkston said. "They've got some guys who run and guys who can pass-rush. They look a lot like our defensive line that way. So, I think it should be a pretty good game.''

Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti knows his front line must be prepared for a knock-down, drag-out tussle this week. But the Panthers look forward to it.

"Absolutely,'' Cignetti said. "Anybody who knows this football team knows that the foundation is built on toughness, from Coach Wannstedt on down and when you look at our weight room and what Buddy (Morris) has done.

"So, our players relish a chance to buckle their chinstrap and hit people in the mouth. This is Pittsburgh, and it's going to be that kind of football game.''

The UConn offensive line has redshirt sophomore center Moe Petrus (6-foot-2, 288 pounds) in the middle. The starting inside guys are redshirt junior left guard Mathieu Oliver (6-6, 286) and redshirt junior right guard Zach Hurd (6-7, 315). The left tackle is fifth-year senior Dan Ryan (6-8, 316), while fifth-year senior Mike Hicks (6-6, 323) is the right tackle.

"When you look at them, the thing that first comes to mind is that they're a tough football team,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "They're very well-disciplined, and they know what to do. To me, they sort of reflect Randy (Coach Edsall). They're kind of like us. We're physical, and we run to the ball. ... They're backs are strong. They complement each other real well. (And) they have a huge offensive line. I don't know where they get them.''

With Cincinnati's recent success and the history of programs like Pitt and West Virginia, UConn really has not been looked at as an elite program in the Big East -- if there is one with that moniker. In any event, the Huskies usually rate after the Panthers, WVU and Cincy.

Even Rutgers had a few good seasons, but the school that played the first college football game hasn't had much to crow about overall. UConn, though, has been quite representative since it moved up to Division I-A and gave Coach Randy Edsall something to work with, and this year is no different.

"Anytime you play four football games and you put up numbers like that, your statistics don't lie after four of five games,'' Wannstedt said. "That's what they are. I think what they've done a good job of is sitting back and knowing what their personnel can do and what they can't do and emphasizing those areas and being good at that. They are the best team (we'll play) so far this year.''

And in a physical contest like this one is expected to be, the Panthers should be right at home.

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