Intensity Slowly Builds For Backyard Brawl

With two byes in a four-week span, there are those who might believe that Pitt's momentum cultivated through six straight victories could be stifled with more time off, but the Panthers coaches and players don't agree.

No. 8 Pittsburgh (9-1, 5-0) also had a bye week before it faced Syracuse at home Nov. 7 and started slowly against the Orange. The Panthers do not play until the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. in Morgantown, W.Va.

"I think that having experienced it once, our guys understand now, when we reflect back and talk about starting fast and getting the bye week out of their system, they'll have a better understanding about what needs to be done,'' Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said.

Wannstedt noted that Pitt won't do anything different this week.

"We're going to approach it the same in terms of length of practices, what we do in practice, players' days off,'' Wannstedt said. "And I feel better about this one, than the first one, because we've been on a roll and in a routine for seven weeks prior. And then we had time off.

"So, having gone through that a couple weeks ago, I think our players know what to expect and know what the routine will be. And the more you keep these kids in a day-to-day routine, the better chance you have to be productive.''

Talk about being on a roll, freshman tailback Dion Lewis has surpassed 100 rushing yards in five straight games and appears to be getting better with every carry. Even he believes the bye week is all right.

"It doesn't really hurt us, but I think it helps us a little bit,'' Lewis said. "We can get a little more rest, get more guys healthy and get a little extra time to prepare for our opponent. So, I think it can help us.''

Fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull agreed.

"I'm going to have to say that the bye week helps us, because it gives us a bunch of extra practices to prepare for WVU,'' Stull said. "And if we need to put something extra in there we'll get a chance to work on that, too.

"(And) they play the three-five-three defense, so we need the extra time to help identify the fronts and coverages and things like that. So, I think it definitely will benefit us in that regard.''

No matter how much is discussed about Pitt's previous trips to West Virginia, it's difficult to explain. The younger players are just going to have to experience it first-hand for it to be believed.

"I've been down there two times before, and I've been called just about everything,'' Stull said. "(But) I like it. I'm not going to lie. I enjoy it. It's fun. It really is. It's great football. It really is, and it just goes to show you the type of rivalry that we have. It's fun. It's a great atmosphere, and I enjoy it.

"Still, I thought something was going to come through our bus a couple years ago. They were throwing stuff, not (the team), but the fans. But it's definitely fun. And amusing. (And) I'm anxious and looking forward to it. And I'm looking forward to seeing Carmen (Connolly), my teammate from high school.''

Lewis already was told about Pitt's most recent experience at WVU, a stunning 13-9 victory in the 100th Backyard Brawl. The Panthers also won last season at Heinz Field, so WVU certainly has much to play for this year.

"And I know that everybody hates West Virginia, (and) I know it's going to be a big game,'' Lewis said. "(And) there's talk about the crowd throwing stuff at us and other stuff like that. Besides that, I've just heard about all the great games that have been played in the past. (So), I really want to get up for this game.''

Pitt defensive end Jabaal Sheard played at WVU as a freshman, and he noted that the Panthers would be advised to leave their helmets on at all times on the sideline and until they exit the field. But that only adds to the excitement.

"It's definitely a fun game to play in,'' Sheard said. "It's a loud stadium. The fans hate you. They're yelling at you. It's really something down there. That really gets your emotions going and gets you ready to play.

"So, we're just going to go out there and play with a lot of heart. It's another game for us on the way to trying to win the Big East, so we have to let everything go and give our all in this game.''

Wannstedt added that while he hasn't got into his WVU story vault just yet, he'll have some ready to go when the team returns from a short break Sunday. And he also will try to line up some guest speakers to the team to recount their Backyard Brawl tales.

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