This Week in the Big East

Plenty of big games abound this week as conference action heats up. Syracuse travels to Morgantown for a national television appearance on Thursday, Pitt hosts Rutgers on Saturday, with the winner holding an inside track to post-season play, and much more...



Last week yours truly opined that Boston College's Eagles would grind out a victory of formerly hapless Pittsburgh, that they would dominate in the trenches against an inferior team.  Egg on my face.  Boston College spent the majority of this week trying to figure out where its formerly impressive run game disappeared to in Saturday's 20-17 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.  Boston College will need to also ask where Pitt's formerly non-existent run game appeared from?  Boston College's strength, their defensive line, was not able to handle a Pitt rushing attack that came into the game next to last in the conference, a rushing attack with little promise, that guided the Panthers to an impressive victory that now has the Panther faithful wondering whether this is their real squad.

Redshirt freshman tailback L.V. Whitworth led the team with 39 yards on 18 carries while the Eagles finished the game with a season-low 56 rushing yards. Whitworth will start this Saturday when Boston College (4-2) takes on Notre Dame (5-2) in South Bend, Ind.

"We're young and we have a lot of young starters (on the offensive line)," Eagles coach Tom O'Brien said. "I think the big thing that has to happen with our football team is our good players have to play great. Right now, we're an average football team coming off the Pittsburgh game."

Senior quarterback Paul Peterson, however, turned in an above-average performance against the Panthers. He completed 32 of 53 passes for a career-high 367 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
But for Boston College to regain its early-season form, the backfield must produce. Whitworth, Andre Callender and A.J. Brooks have all rushed for 100 yards or more in games this season.
Following their trip to Notre Dame, the Eagles will take a week off before hosting Rutgers on Nov. 6.

Tom O'brien's most recent head-scratching loss is reminiscent of a similar performance as last year's trip to Syracuse, where the Eagles were run over in a 39-14 pounding by a mediocre Orange team that failed to make a Bowl Game.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Boston College has dropped to third in the Big East in terms of rushing offense (162.3 ypg.).  QB Paul Peterson is now third in the league with 1402 total passing yards for the season and WR Grant Adams has reeled in 27 receptions for 406 yards, good enough for 5th in the conference.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The conference's top-ranked defense has surrendered just 11.5 points and 275.5 yards per game. Opponents have scored seven touchdowns and six field goals in six games. DE Mathias Kiwanuka, the Big East sack leader in 2003, has recorded four this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've won there. We've won big games there. I think our kids like playing there. They like the crowd and like the enthusiasm. There's a lot of electricity there and that's the kind of game our kids like to be in." -- Boston College coach Tom O'Brien, on playing at Notre Dame Stadium.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Boston College at Notre Dame, Oct. 23 -- Coming off a 20-17 overtime loss at Pittsburgh, Boston College (4-2) will head to Notre Dame (5-2) for a non-conference game. The Eagles edged the Irish 27-25 last season on a last-minute field goal and have won three in a row in the series. If Boston College rediscovers its run game, Notre Dame will have its hands full.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Paul Peterson -- The senior completed 32 of 53 passes for a career-high 367 yards in the 20-17 loss to Pittsburgh. Peterson delivered touchdown passes to receivers Larry Lester and Joel Hazard. He is the Big East's third-rated passer and has thrown 10 TDs so far.

WR Larry Lester -- Having recovered from an early-season injury, the junior could finish the year as Boston College's top receiver. He managed five receptions for 54 yards at Pittsburgh, including a game-tying fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Peterson.
ROSTER REPORT: RB Andre Callender (groin) has returned to practice, but is still questionable for Notre Dame. He has missed two games.

Prediction:  Tough game to figure out.  Notre Dame has been up and down at home, impressively defeating Michigan and getting blown out by Purdue.  Though Boston College has dominated this series recently, it's time for the Irish to break out of their slump and take advantage of the Panthers' exposing of the Eagles.  The Irish won't cover 7, but they will eek out a win.

Boston College 20 - Notre Dame 23


Coach Randy Edsall is thrilled the Huskies won't play any more midweek games this season. Connecticut has played on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights to accommodate television coverage.  The Huskies do play one more odd-time (10:00 a.m.) when they travel to Piscataway to face Rutgers on Thanksgiving Day, a game televised on ESPN2.

The Huskies have dropped two of three games, including last Wednesday's 31-19 loss to West Virginia, at home.  Connecticut, more than other conference teams, have been very solid picks to win (and win convincingly) in games they are supposed to, but have yet to impress on the national stage in front of tougher competition.

"I'm happy we're back playing on Saturdays," Edsall said. "It's nice to play on TV, but if I had my druthers, I'd continue to play on Saturdays because of kids missing classes and those kinds of things.
"But the (West Virginia loss) was a thing of the past after Thursday, when we watched tape and made corrections. Hopefully we learned from it."

Connecticut (4-2) will play its final Big East home game of the season on Saturday, when it hosts Temple (1-6) at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The Huskies have lost two of their last four games, but remain in the middle of the league's standings.  The last time these two squads faced one another, in 2002, the Owls won at Connecticut in convincing fashion, 38-24.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Connecticut's passing offense (279.7 ypg.) should dominate Temple's beleaguered secondary. Then again, the Owls held Rutgers' league-leading passing attack to 193 yards. Huskies QB Dan Orlovsky has thrown 12 touchdown passes against nine interceptions, and is the league's top passing threat.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Huskies have the league's second-ranked defense (301.2 ypg.), and opponents are averaging only 18.7 points per game. Connecticut is tied for second in the conference with 12 sacks.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Walter wasn't a guy we recruited. But he's a big strong guy and has a very good arm. You have to be alert for him running the football and throwing the football. Watching him on tape it looks like he's doing what they're asking him to do." -- Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, on facing Temple quarterback Walter Washington this weekend.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Temple at UConn, Oct. 23 -- The game will be the fifth straight sellout at Connecticut's Rentschler Field, and the last Big East home game of the year. QB Dan Orlovsky, the Big East's leading passer with 276.3 yards per game (a meager 24 total passing yards better than Ryan Hart, of Rutgers), will attempt to expose Temple's league-worst defense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Dan Orlovsky -- The senior completed 24 of 47 passes for 268 yards and was intercepted three times against West Virginia. He did, however, throw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, which tied him for first place on Connecticut's all-time list.  The Huskie faithful is still waiting to see the NFL prospect all though Orlovsky would develop into.

CB Justin Perkins -- The senior is tied for the league lead in interceptions with three. He also has broken up six passes.
ROSTER REPORT: DE Tyler King broke his right leg two weeks ago and is expected to be out at least another month.

Prediction:  Though Temple defeated the Huskies two years ago, that Temple team also stunned Syracuse, and won 4 games that year, including 2 in the Big East.  The Owls have been closer the last two weeks, competing in close contests versus Pitt and Rutgers.  This game will not be nearly as close.  The Huskies rarely falter to a team they are vastly superior than. 

Connecticut 34 - Temple 13


The Panthers' run game finally got untracked due in no small part to a consistent offensive line.  Led by LT Rob Petitti (Sr.) this is an offensive line that got all their starters back for the first time this year, last week against Boston College, resulting in a 20-17 victory over Boston College on Saturday.

"We have a lot of young players still trying to learn what it is to play consistently at this level," Harris said. "It was very exciting for us. In our minds it was a real good win."

LT Rob Petitti, LG Charles Spencer, C Justin Belarski, RG John Simonitis and RT Mike McGlynn sprung tailback Raymond Kirkley for 88 yards and one touchdown. The Panthers rushed for a season-high 177 yards in the victory.

Like every coach, Harris is searching for consistency midway through the campaign. He said Pittsburgh (4-2) played its best four quarters of the season on Saturday, but now must maintain that level against Rutgers (4-2) this weekend.

Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko is averaging 207.7 passing yards per game and has displayed uncommon mobility in recent weeks. That's a good sign as the Panthers look to continue their dominance in the series. The Panthers have bested the Scarlet Knights in five straight meetings and hold a 10-3 edge in Big East play.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Tyler Palko was finally given some run support as the Panthers managed 177 yards on the ground last week. Palko will be even more dangerous with a sound rushing attack behind him. Pittsburgh is averaging 24.3 points per game, fourth in the Big East.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Panthers own the Big East's fourth-ranked defense in terms of scoring (22.2 ppg.) and yardage (375.7). LB H.B. Blades leads the team with 57 tackles, 8.5 for loss.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a good win for us, now we have to come back to earth. ... This game against Rutgers is going to be a real challenge -- it always has been. We play good for a half, then we don't show up." -- Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris, on his team's 20-17 win over Boston College on Saturday and matchup with Rutgers this weekend.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Rutgers at Pittsburgh, Oct. 23 -- The Panthers have won the past five meetings, including a 42-32 decision at Rutgers last season, that they nearly blew in a furious Scarlet Knight fourth quarter rally.  To make it six in a row, Pittsburgh's secondary must show up to defend the Scarlet Knights' passing offense, which has been the most productive in the league. The Panthers surrendered 367 yards through the air to Boston College last weekend.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Tyler Palko -- Hasn't thrown an interception in either of the past two games.  Palko completed 12 of 27 passes for 131 yards in the win over Boston College. He also rushed for 55 yards and a 3-yard touchdown.
P Adam Graessle -- The sophomore leads the league with a 43.7-yard punting average. He managed a 79-yard punt against Boston College.
ROSTER REPORT: LT Rob Petitti (concussion) returned to the field last week after a one-game absence and is the leader on an offensive line that played together for the first time this year just last week, and is now beginning to gel.  Defensive end Kyle Smith, offensive lineman Neal Tracey and fullbacks Tim Murphy and Justin Acierno did not dress for the Boston College game due to injury.

Prediction:  Palko will need the help he got last week to be successful.  The Scarlet Knights rush four and will stay honest defensively, especially due to a beleaguered secondary that took a big hit last week physically and emotionally.  If the Panthers offensive line controls the LOS, the Pitt offense may have a field day against Rutgers.  However, it may not surprise anyone to see Pitt come out unfocused on the task at hand and take Rutgers, a team that has been decimated by the injury bug, completely for granted.

Pittsburgh 20 - Rutgers 24


The Scarlet Knights' already significant injury issues grew considerably worse Saturday night when defensive backs Dondre Asberry, Manny Collins and Eddie Grimes were involved in a multi-vehicle accident following a 16-6 victory over Temple.

Asberry was listed in stable condition, but was still recovering in a local hospital on Tusday. Collins and Grimes were released with head and neck ailments Saturday night. Asberry won't play at Pittsburgh this weekend and both Collins and Grimes are doubtful, but could both see action if needed.

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano will have eight semi-experienced defensive backs at his disposal, but only starters Joe Porter and Derrick Roberson have seen significant time at cornerback.

"We're blessed that they are all alive, but it will affect us in the secondary," Schiano said. "We have our work cut out for us. I expect Pittsburgh to take advantage of that."

Rutgers will also need to replace its replacement at right tackle. Sophomore Cameron Stephenson, who filled in for injured starter Sameeh McDonald (knee) against Temple, will be out with a high ankle sprain.
Wide receiver Shawn Tucker (groin) is also out and is expected to apply for a medical redshirt; linebacker Berkeley Hutchinson (shoulder) and offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah (knee) are also questionable for Pittsburgh.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Ryan Hart struggled mightily against Temple (18-for-30, 193 yards, three INTs), but managed back-to-back 300-yard performances in Rutgers' previous two games. The Scarlet Knights' rushing offense is ranked last in the league at 96.8 yards per game.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Scarlet Knights surrendered 360 yards, but held Temple to just two field goals. Rutgers also forced four turnovers. The Scarlet Knights own the league's fifth-ranked total defense (401.5 ypg.).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When linebackers and defensive backs trying to tackle you are smaller than you, it's an advantageous position. We have to make sure he's accounted for in everything they do. It seems that's what we face every week -- a big, mobile quarterback. That seems to be the trend in college football." -- Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, on defending Pittsburgh's 6-2, 220-pound quarterback Tyler Palko on Saturday.

QUOTE TO NOTE 2: "We had a bad thing occur Saturday night. Three of our players were the victims of an accident. Dondre (Asberry) is going to be okay, I do believe. But he's going to be a while healing, he's going to be a while in the hospital. He's done for the year." -- Rutgers Head Coach, Greg Schiano

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Rutgers at Pittsburgh, Oct. 23 -- The game's result will have bowl implications for both teams, which enter the game at 4-2. The Scarlet Knights dropped a 42-32 decision to the Panthers last season, but had Pitt sweating out the final minutes.  Rutgers last defeated the Panthers in 1998, a 25-21 decision at Pittsburgh.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR Tres Moses -- The senior reeled in nine receptions for 98 yards in Rutgers' 16-6 victory over Temple on Saturday. Moses managed 147 and 109 receiving yards in the Scarlet Knights' two previous games against Syracuse and Vanderbilt. He has caught at least one pass in 17 consecutive games and is second in the Big East in total receiving yards with 462.

FS Ron Girault -- In his first career start, the true freshman recorded a team-high 13 tackles and intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter. The interception eventually resulted in three points and a 9-6 Rutgers lead. He was named Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. 

ROSTER REPORT: RT Sameeh McDonald (knee), WR Shawn Tucker (groin), LB Berkeley Hutchinson (shoulder), OT Cameron Stephenson (ankle), OL Jeremy Zuttah (knee), DB Manny Collins (head, neck) and CB Eddie Grimes (head, neck) are doubtful for the Pittsburgh game. DB Dondre Asberry (spine) won't be available and is out for the remainder of the season.  Shawn Tucker is expected to apply for a medical redshirt in an attempt to fix the ailment that has been keeping him out of commission for the better part of two years..

Prediction:  The winner of this game has the inside track to a Big East Bowl tie-in.  The loser goes home and thinks about what could have been.  Rutgers is playing meaningful football in late October for the first time since a home contest in 1998 against West Virginia.  The question to address here is how much advantage can Tyler Palko seize from a decimated defensive backfield of Rutgers.  If Rutgers D-line cannot control the now efficient Pitt rushing attack, while the LBers stay put in coverage, this could be a long day for the Scarlet Knights.  In the end, Rutgers may play with a different type of emotion this Saturday, when considering the accident that three of their own players were involved in after last week's win.  The mental response to that occurrence may be more important than we give it credit for.

Rutgers 24 - Pittsburgh 20


Coach Paul Pasqualoni hopes Syracuse's brutal non-conference schedule will strengthen the team's mettle as it continues Big East play. The Orange have faced three ranked opponents -- Purdue, Virginia and Florida State -- but lost to each.

Syracuse rallied to beat Rutgers in its league opener, 41-31, but will face a tough test in No. 15 West Virginia on Thursday.

The Mountaineers' (5-1) delivered a 31-19 victory over Connecticut on the road last Wednesday. Rasheed Marshall became the first West Virginia quarterback to rush for more than 100 yards since Major Harris in 1989.

"West Virginia is obviously an outstanding football team," Pasqualoni said. "They've got the great quarterback, they've got great wide receivers. I know their running back corps was a little bumped up last week, but we expect them to be back and healthy."

Pasqualoni was referring to Mountaineers tailback Kay-Jay Harris, who missed the Connecticut game with a sprained knee and ankle. Harris (114.2 ypg.) is the top rusher in the Big East.
Syracuse, however, will counter with a strong backfield presence of its own. The Orange (3-3) offer the Big East's third-ranked rushing offense (160.7 ypg.). Tailbacks Walter Reyes (92.7 ypg., 4 TDs) and Damien Rhodes (50.2 ypg., 4 TDs) are two of the best in the league, if not the country.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Syracuse's third-ranked rushing attack (160.7 ypg.) managed just 58 yards against Florida State. The Orange have lost 17 straight games when rushing for less than 100 yards. Syracuse still owns the Big East's last-ranked offense (307.5 ypg.).

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Syracuse is ranked sixth in the Big East for scoring defense (25.7 ppg.) and last in total defense (406.5 ypg.). LB Jerry Mackey is the team's leading tackler with 52.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You're trying to be an educator and at the same time trying to be in the business of winning I-A football games. We try to keep that all in perspective. You're not going to make everybody happy all the time, but that's the dilemma of big time college athletics." -- Coach Paul Pasqualoni, on the speculation that this may be his last season at Syracuse.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Syracuse at West Virginia, Oct. 23 -- The Orange will close the season with five consecutive league games. This could be a battle of wills near the goal line as West Virginia leads the league in red zone efficiency, while Syracuse is first in red zone defense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Walter Reyes -- The 5-10, 209-pound senior rushed for only 27 yards on 14 carries but led the team with six receptions for 51 yards in a loss to Florida State on Oct. 9. Reyes is averaging 92.7 rushing yards per game, third in the Big East.

SS Diamond Ferri -- The 5-10, 218-pound junior was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Week on Oct. 11 after he recorded six solo tackles, forced a fumble and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown against Florida State.

ROSTER REPORT: WR Steve Gregory has missed four games with a thigh injury and is questionable for the West Virginia game. CB DeAndre LaCaille (hamstring) is also questionable. LB Kellen Pruitt, who missed two games after undergoing knee surgery, should be available this weekend.

Prediction:  Syracuse, along with Pittsburgh, are the lone Big East teams that have looked better and better with each subsequent game.  The Orange will have to look a lot better to stop West Virginia on its home turf.  Look for Kay-Jay and the Mountaineers to dominate the LOS starting in the 2nd half and pull away in the fourth.

West Virginia 34 - Syracuse 20


Having nearly won two Big East games in as many weeks, the Owls are looking to finally snap a streak of 10 straight conference losses when they play at Connecticut (4-2) on Saturday.
Temple dropped a 27-22 decision to Pittsburgh on Oct. 9, then fell 16-6 at Rutgers last weekend. The Owls have lost four straight games.

"It's not a lack of effort and it's not a lack of preparation during the week," coach Bobby Wallace said. "I wasn't sure that we were good enough on defense. But if we can play like we did on Saturday, I feel good about our defense."

The Owls (1-6) held Rutgers' passing offense, which is ranked first in the conference and at the time boasted the 9th best passing offense nationally, to 193 yards. The Scarlet Knights also turned the ball over five times.

Junior quarterback Walter Washington has proven week in and week out that he is Temple's only legitimate offensive option. The team's running game has been nonexistent and the Owls' receiving corps unimpressive.

Washington completed 21 of 39 passes for 219 yards and was intercepted twice on Saturday. He added 67 rushing yards on 27 carries, but failed to produce a touchdown.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Temple features the league's last-ranked scoring offense (19.3 ppg.) and fifth-ranked total offense (362.7 ypg.). QB Walter Washington leads the team in rushing (61.4, 8 TDs) and passing (187.4, 4 TDs) yardage.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Owls own the Big East's worst scoring (36.3 ppg.) and total defense (429.9 ypg.). LB Troy Bennett leads the team in tackles with 65. Temple is coming off its best defensive performance of the season at Rutgers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's been a little frustrating, but we have to get back to work and get ready for another one." -- Coach Bobby Wallace, on Temple's struggles this season. The Owls have beaten just one team -- I-AA representative Florida A&M -- in seven tries.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Temple at UConn, Oct. 23 -- The Owls have beaten the Huskies in seven of eight games, but the tables appear to be turned this time around. If the defense can build on last week's performance at Rutgers (283 yards), it might have a chance in East Hartford.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Walter Washington -- A week after throwing for a career-high 314 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to Pittsburgh, Washington completed 21 of 39 passes for 219 yards and was intercepted twice in the Rutgers game. He added 67 rushing yards on 27 carries.

CB Jermaine Hargraves -- The junior recovered a fumble, intercepted a Ryan Hart pass and returned it 14 yards in defeat. He also recorded four tackles.
ROSTER REPORT: DL Antwon Burton (foot) didn't play against Rutgers and is sidelined indefinitely. The Owls are otherwise healthy.

Prediction:  Though Temple defeated the Huskies two years ago, that Temple team also stunned Syracuse, and won 4 games that year, including 2 in the Big East.  The Owls have been closer the last two weeks, competing in close contests versus Pitt and Rutgers.  This game will not be nearly as close.  The Huskies rarely falter to a team they are vastly superior than. 

Temple 13 - Connecticut 34


When senior running back Kay-Jay Harris graduates, the Mountaineers will apparently have no problem replacing him.  That seems to be the story virtually every year in Morgantown.

Harris, the Big East's leading rusher (114.2 ypg.), watched the Oct. 13 win over Connecticut from the sideline as true freshman Pernell Williams ran for 89 yards on 16 carries.

"He's an outstanding running back," Huskies coach Randy Edsall said. "He's just another one of those West Virginia running backs. I wish he wasn't a freshman. I wish he was a senior."

Despite Williams' emergence, Harris is set to return this week when the Mountaineers (5-1) host Syracuse (3-3) in a battle of conference unbeatens.

"Kay-Jay is back," West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I don't know if he's at 100 percent. It's hard to tell until we go into a live situation."

Fifteenth-ranked West Virginia still remains the favorite to win the Big East's BCS bid. West Virginia dropped a 19-13 decision at Virginia Tech on Oct. 2, but was the only conference team included in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Rasheed Marshall commands the league's top-ranked offense (418.7 ypg., 34.8 ppg.). In addition to the Big East's top-rated passer (Marshall) and leading rusher (Kay-Jay Harris), West Virginia boasts the fourth-ranked receiver (Chris Henry).

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Mountaineers are ranked second in scoring (17.9 ppg.) and third in total (315.7) defense. CB Adam "Pac-man" Jones leads the team in tackles with 40.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Anytime you have young guys step up, bruises heal faster that way." -- West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, on the return of injured tailback Kay-Jay Harris this week after freshman Pernell Williams rushed for 89 yards on 16 carries against Connecticut.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Syracuse at West Virginia, Oct. 23 -- West Virginia tries to stay on track for a BCS game, but the Orange is battle-tested, having already played Purdue, Virginia and Florida State.  Should Syracuse win the contest, the conference's lone Top 25 representative would drop out leaving a BCS conference without a single member in the national polls. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Rasheed Marshall -- The senior completed 12 of 20 passes for 138 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown strike to receiver Chris Henry, in the win over Connecticut. He also rushed for 110 yards on 18 carries. Marshall is the league's top-rated passer.

RB Kay-Jay Harris -- The senior will return from a sprained knee and ankle on Saturday. He missed one game but still leads the Big East in rushing (114.2 ypg.).
ROSTER REPORT: FB Justin Dziak (hamstring) is questionable. SS Lawrence Audena, the Mountaineers' leading tackler through four games, returned to the lineup against Connecticut.

Prediction:  Syracuse has improved from game to game, and could have easily defeated a superior Florida State team if not for their inability to hold on to the ball and limit careless mistakes.  The stakes are just as high here, if not higher, but the result will be the same. 

West Virginia 34 - Syracuse 20


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