Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. There is no traditional TV for this game, ending a run of 43 consecutive television appearances for Rutgers. However, the contest can be accessed at ESPN360.com. Bob Picozzi will handle play-by-play duties in the online broadcast, which can be accessed by Verizon broadband customers Verizonsurround.com/sports.
The Panthers looked shaky in the early season, dropping a 27-17 home decision to Bowling Green to open the season and struggling to get past Buffalo, Iowa and Syracuse. However, the Panthers used a 26-21 victory at then-No. 10 South Florida as a springboard into the Top 25. Head coach Dave Wannstedt's crew destroyed Navy last week, 42-21, behind running back LeSean McCoy's 156 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
The Panthers are the frontrunners in the Big East right now and are playing their best football of the season. In addition to their Associated Press and coaches poll rankings, the Panthers are 18th in the Harris Interactive Poll and 17th in the Bowl Championship Series rankings
One reason Pitt struggled early an inability to hold on to the ball (four fumbles and three interceptions in the first three games). In fact, turnovers continue to plague the Panthers but not enough to cause losses the last five weeks. The Panthers are last in the Big East with seven fumbles lost and are second to last in the conference (RU is eighth) in turnover margin (minus 5).
Running back LeSean McCoy is one of the best ball carriers in the nation who averages 114.8 yards per game with 10 rushing touchdowns. He has heated up recently, gaining a total of 447 yards and scoring five touchdowns in the last three games. Rutgers limited "Shady" McCoy to 60 yards and no scores on 22 carries.
Junior quarterback Bill Stull is in his first full season as the Panthers' starter (though he was the starter last season before injuring his throwing hand in the opener). He got off to a rough start, throwing three interceptions to one touchdown in the first three games this year. He has since settled down, but Navy picked him off twice last week. Stull averages 213.8 yards per game.
In direct contrast to Rutgers' struggles inside the red zone, Pitt has scored points on 21 of its 22 trips inside opponents' 20-yard line. The Panthers have come away with 16 touchdowns out of those 21 scores.
Pitt faces a Rutgers defense that is in the midst of its best stretch of the season. The Scarlet Knights have continued to limit opposing defenses, especially on the scoreboard. In three Big East games this year, RU is allowing an average of 15.7 points per game. Linebacker Ryan D'Imperio was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week following the win over UConn after he registered 11 tackles versus the Huskies.
Pittsburgh leads the Big East and is 11th nationally with 18 sacks this season. The Panthers roughed up USF quarterback with four sacks during their 26-21 victory against the Bulls in Tampa Oct. 2. The Panthers allow just 287 yards of total offense this year and are 10th nationally in pass defense with 156.5 yards against per game through the air.
Senior linebacker Scott McKillop is just about everyone's pick for Big East Defensive Player of the Year through the first half of the season. He leads the conference with 61 tackles and has a Big East-best 9 1/2 tackles for loss. McKillop was all over the place in the win against USF with 12 tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss.
The Panthers go up against a Rutgers team that is last or next to last in rushing offense (107.8 ypg, eighth), scoring offense (16.7 ppg, seventh) and total offense (314.7 ypg, seventh). The Scarlet Knights average just 13 points per game in Big East play this season.
Senior place-kicker Conor Lee is dependable, having hit nine of his 10 field goal attempts this season and each of his 18 extra points. With seven more field goals, Lee would become the school's all-time leading kicker in that category. He would also do it in three years as a starter, surpassing four-year kicker Carson Long, who played on Pitt's 1976 national championship team. Lee has missed only seven field goals in his career and has never shanked a PAT.
LaRod Stephens-Howling, who was Pitt's starting tailback until McCoy burst onto the scene last year, is one of the top kick returners in the Big East this year with an average of 22.9 yards per kickoff return.
HEAD TO HEAD
Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 19-6 and is 11-6 versus Rutgers in Big East play. However, the Scarlet Knights have won three straight against the Panthers, including last year's 20-16 victory that came down to the final seconds of the game. The last time these teams met at Heinz Field, RU running back Ray Rice broke off a 63-yard run out of the shadows of his own goal posts to help propel the Scarlet Knights to a 20-10 win.
The teams have played each other every year since 1985, including a 1989 meeting in Dublin, Ireland, that the Panthers won 46-29.
In the last four meetings between these schools, Pitt has reached the 100-yard mark just once, notching 10 yards on 41 carries in last year's 20-16 RU win. . . . Rutgers has lost four straight road games dating to last year's 38-19 loss at Louisville in the regular season finale. The Scarlet Knights are also mired in a four-game road losing streak in Big East games, last notching a conference victory away from home with a 38-14 win at Syracuse last Oct. 13. . . . . Kenny Britt is the all-time RU leader in 100-yard receiving games with nine after grabbing nine catches for 107 yards against UConn last week. The true junior has 46 receptions for 571 yards this season but still does not have a receiving touchdown in 2008. . . . Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano is 4-3 against Pittsburgh and 3-0 versus Wannstedt.
Pitt is looking to open the Big East season 3-0 for the third time in school history. The Panthers achieved that feat in back-to-back seasons in 2002 and '03. . . . This is the second time in three years that Pitt is off to a 5-1 start. In 2006 the Panthers began the campaign 6-1 before losing 20-10 at home versus Rutgers and limped to a 5-7 record with no bowl appearance. . . . Pitt is the No. 1 team in college football in penalties and penalty yards per game. The Panthers have been flagged 20 times for just 139 yards this versus 24 for 289 yards for their opponents.
The National Weather Service forecasts showers with temperatures in the mid-to-high 50s on Saturday.