Preview: Pittsburgh at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers opens its Big East home slate with Pittsburgh tomorrow at High Point Solutions Stadium. With first place in the conference on the line and so many connections between the two schools, this game is a can't miss.

Pittsburgh (3-2, 1-0) at Rutgers (3-1, 1-0)

Time: 3:32 p.m., High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.
TV/Radio: ESPNU, 710-WOR, 1450-AM, 97.5 FM, 88.7 WRSU
Series: Pitt leads 21-7
Last meeting: Oct. 23, 2010: Pittsburgh won, 41-21
Coaches: Rutgers – Greg Schiano (11th season, 62-64); SyracuseTodd Graham (6th season, 46-25, 1st season at Pitt, 3-2)


  • Quarterback Controversy. Chas Dodd's struggles and Gary Nova's solid play off the bench against Syracuse led to a heated competition in practice this week. Though Schiano likely made his decision days ago between the two, it will not become public knowledge until just before kickoff. If Nova wins, he becomes the third true freshman quarterback in as many years to start a game at Rutgers.

  • Star-studded Lineups. The Big East Offensive, Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Week will all be on the field tomorrow in Piscataway. For Pittsburgh, running back Ray Graham leads the offensive charge after dominating against South Florida last week. For Rutgers, middle linebacker Steve Beauharnais' prowess between the tackles and interception at the end of regulation earned him defensive honors against Syracuse. Linebacker Jamal Merrell blocked two kicks en route to the special teams honors. The winner of the game takes sole possession of first place in the Big East.

  • Grudge Match. The Pittsburgh remnants after the firing of Dave Wannstedt have the chance to face off against four coaches that left for Rutgers in the offseason. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti called the shots in Pittsburgh the last two years and now does so for Rutgers. Assistants Brian Angelicho and Jeff Hafley are responsible for recruiting half the Panthers' current roster, Offensive assistant Andrew Janocko swapped staffs as well and works with quarterbacks Chas Dodd and Gary Nova.

Scouting Pittsburgh

Offensively, the Panthers begin with Graham. The junior running back has more than 800 total ards and eight touchdowns through five games and took home the Walter Camp Player of the Week honors on offense last week. Graham ran for 56 yards and a touchdown against Rutgers last year as the backup to now Philadelphia Eagle Dion Lewis. Jonathan Baldwin is also gone to the NFL after last season, but quarterback Tino Sunseri has plenty of weapons. Frank Cignetti is gone, meaning a new offensive scheme. Pittsburgh runs the fastest offense Rutgers has seen this year and Greg Schiano will have to keep a close eye on the defense to keep rotating in fresh guys. The good news for Rutgers is that Pittsburgh is worst in the country in sacks allowed.

Running back Ray Graham
Defensively, the Panthers started off slowly, but had its best effort of the season against USF last week. South Florida scored 28 points below its season average. The Panthers give up 21.6 points per game on the season, but have only surrendered one touchdown in five first quarters. Defensive end Brandon Lindsey is tied for the lead in the conference in sacks per game and has four on the year.

Matchup to Watch
Pitt RB Ray Graham vs Rutgers OLB Khaseem Greene. The sibling rivalry between Graham and Greene is well-documented, but the two have never faced off on this capacity. This year, it is the Big East's leading rusher against Rutgers' leading tackler. Playing safety during their first two matchups, Greene lines up a unit closer to Graham and the two are assuredly set to bump helmets this year.

What Rutgers Must Do Offensively
Protect the Quarterback. Whether it is Dodd or Nova, both have their issues. The first step to building confidence in the quarterback spot is giving him time to make something happen. Dodd cannot make the throws or the reads he needs two with taller defensive linemen in his face. Nova will be the first to admit that he tried to do too much to avoid the pressure, which led to multiple penalties and a lost fumble against Syracuse.

What Rutgers Must Do Defensively
Make Pittsburgh one-dimensional.Rutgers fell behind early against Pittsburgh last season and allowed the passing and rushing game to each put up big numbers. Sunseri had one of his best career games and Lewis and Graham each moved the ball effectively on the ground. To stop Pittsburgh this season, Rutgers has to take away the pass to key on Graham or vice versa.

Three keys for a Rutgers win
Kaleb Johnson
1. Block. Pass blocking improved from last season, but still needs a lot of work. The run game leaves much to be desired. Whether it was De'Antwan Williams, Jawan Jamison or Savon Huggins, the running game produces just 75.5 yards per game.

2. Special Teams. It proved the difference against Syracuse and can do the same against Pittsburgh. If Rutgers gets anything close to the production it did against the Orange, Pitt is in trouble. The kicking game, however, has to improve.

3. Contain Graham. The Pittsburgh star running back is going to make his plays. For Rutgers to be successful, it needs to get Graham down on first contact and prevent him from turning small gains into devastating runs.

Three keys for a Pittsburgh win
1. Protect. Pittsburgh is 120th in the country in sacks allowed and Schiano is bound to try to take advantage of that and get after Sunseri. Pittsburgh has to stop the versatile Rutgers pass rush in order to attack the secondary.

2. Stay Fresh. The 2011 Panthers have a history of blown leads late in games, most recently in the loss to Notre Dame. Rutgers is a strong fourth-quarter team with tremendous mental toughness. The Scarlet Knights proved last week that a late deficit is not a death sentence.

3. Prepare for Cignetti. Pittsburgh knows better than any other what Cignetti is capable of as an offensive coordinator. The best way to fluster the Rutgers offense is to be prepared for everything Cignetti can throw their way.

Football 101
To help familiarize the less rabid fans with the X's and O's of college football, break down a factor relevant to each game before kickoff. This week, we break down the "hurry-up offense," which Pittsburgh frequently uses to keep its opponents off-balance.

The hurry-up offense traditionally means no huddles between offensive plays. An offense simply makes a play, then runs to the line of scrimmage to call another play and snap the football without huddling.

The advantage of this offense is that it keeps the defense from making adjustments between plays. It also makes defensive substitutions problematic. Schiano talked about that this week, saying he will have to plan two or three plays ahead to keep his defense fresh.

The disadvantage comes in limited play-calling on offense. The offense either needs to script the drive before it begins or call plays on the spot with limited options.

Pittsburgh, 24, Rutgers 17

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