No. 8 Pittsburgh (9-1) goes for a third straight win against West Virginia (7-3) for the first time since a seven-game streak from 1976-82 in the 102nd Backyard Brawl tonight at 7 at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
The Panthers won 19-15 last year at Heinz Field and 13-9 the last time at WVU. The Mountaineers average 27.6 points per game this year and 393.2 yards per game (6.0 per attempt) with 183.5 rushing and 209.7 passing.
In a matchup with WVU just after he returned to his alma mater, Pitt's Dave Wannstedt was asked what the Panthers could do to be more successful against the Mountaineers, and the fifth-year head coach said his team needed to run faster. Wannstedt discussed why Pitt has been so successful lately.
"I think our coaches have done a good job coming up with a sound scheme, No. 1,'' Wannstedt said. "No. 2, we've been very sound fundamentally with our tackling, which is one of the fundamental things (if not done well) that generally will hurt you with this type of offense.
"I think the third thing is athletically we've got enough players that can match up with them. And they've got great players. If (running back) Noel Devine breaks a run, he's going to run away from anybody. I think for the most part, though, we match up well with them athletically.
"That's enabled us the last couple of years to be able to (match up) just from a physical standpoint,'' Wannstedt added. "So I'd say it's a combination of a good, sound scheme, good execution by our players, by that I mean good fundamentals, and then physically having enough talent that when you get an opportunity to make a play, you make it.''
WVU's top offensive performers are quarterback Jarrett Brown and tailback Noel Devine. Brown is a true dual-threat with a 65.1 percent completion rate for 1,849 yards and 11 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He also is the No. 2 rusher with 366 yards and five scores.
"We've got to get ready, because they do a multitude of things,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "When you look at them ... they were driving to win the Auburn game. Some people believe they won the Cincinnati game.
"USF, they probably had the biggest lead on them, but they do a lot offensively. So, it'll be a lot of work on fundamentals, but we've also got to get some guys healthy in order to get out there and get going to be able to match up with guys like Jarrett Brown, Noel Devine, Jock Sanders and guys like that.''
Brown's top target is Sanders with 62 catches (9.6 average) and three TDs. The next two receivers are Alric Arnett (14.1) and Brad Starks (15.0) with 33 and 24, respectively, for three and two scores. Devine has 19 catches and one touchdown to go with 1,098 yards rushing (5.7 average) and 10 scores.
"Devine, he's a lot faster and quicker than the guys that we've faced so far this season, and he's a smart runner,'' Pitt junior defensive end Jabaal Sheard said. "I would say that if he gets out in the open field, it might be over. So, we've just got to get him down on the ground as fast as possible.
"That's that best way to stop him. He really hits the hole quick and can run past anybody, even some DBs. So, it's a good thing for us to keep him between the tackles. Keep him inside the linebackers and the safeties and not let him get to the sideline, that's the key for any defense.''
Defensively, WVU uses a three-five-three scheme, a slight adaptation from the three-four. Either way, Pitt rarely has faced a defense with three front linemen. Panthers senior tight end Dorin Dickerson noted that while it's different, it's not necessarily difficult to face. Freshman tailback Dion Lewis believed the Mountaineers are similar to another team on Pitt's schedule.
"Navy is the only team we play that's close to what WVU plays defensively,'' Lewis said. "So, we needed to take advantage of the extra time that we have to prepare and get some extra film time and studying, but with all that it's a blessing that we've had the extra time to get through it.''
Dickerson was just happy to get closer to game day since the Pitt coaches pumped in John Denver's Country Roads, the West Virginia state song, during every practice session.
"Yeah, it's exciting during West Virginia week,'' Dickerson said. "Every year, they play that song, I don't even know what it is, but they play it during practice every day. And it gets us excited, so we can't wait to play them.
"(And) you always want to beat West Virginia, if you go to Pitt, and I'm sure the same thing is true for them (to beat Pitt). So, we just have to go down there and take care of business, do what we've been doing all year, taking it one game at a time and play them hard. So, that's what we're going to do.''
And that could be enough for Pitt to secure a third straight victory in the annual Backyard Brawl.
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