Who Has the Edge in the Rutgers-Pittsburgh game?
RUTGERS' OFFENSE VS. PITT'S DEFENSE
RU has been unable to move the ball with any consistency this season and is ranked near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly Division I-A) in several offensive categories. The Scarlet Knights have improved in giveaways the last few weeks, registering zero turnovers in three Big East games. However, they have only scored a total of 39 points in those three games and are averaging 272.7 total yards per game against the Big East.
The Knights have struggled through the air, as starting quarterback Mike Teel is throwing for fewer than 200 yards per game. Receiver Kenny Britt has been the offensive standout for Rutgers with 46 catches for 571, but he has yet to haul in a touchdown reception this season.
Pitt's pass defense is one of the strongest in the nation, allowing 156.5 yards passing per game. The Panthers, who run a 4-3 set, lead the Big East in that category and are also tops in the conference with 18 total sacks.
Linebacker Scott McKillop, last year's NCAA tackle leader, is No. 1 in the Big East again this season with 61 tackles and 9 1/2 tackles for loss. He also has registered three sacks, and he leads the FBS with 7.33 solo tackles per game. Sophomore defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus have combined for seven sacks, and sophomore safety Dom DeCicco is a ball hawk with two interceptions this year.
PITT'S OFFENSE VS. RUTGERS' DEFENSE
For the second straight week, Rutgers faces a team with a strong power running game and a superb feature back. Sophomore running back LeSean McCoy is second in the Big East with 114.8 yards per game, and he has three straight games over 100 yards on the ground. McCoy has scored five of his 10 touchdowns over the last two weeks, including a 3-yard run late in the fourth quarter that was the difference in the 26-21 victory at South Florida Oct. 2.
Quarterback Bill Stull has settled into his role the last few games and has thrown three touchdowns to zero interceptions in the last three Pitt outings compared to one touchdown and three picks in the first three games.
As a team, Pittsburgh's traditional pro set has only failed to score points on one of its 22 trips inside opponents' red zone, netting 16 touchdowns in those attempts. The Panthers average 380.7 yards per game and 27.8 points per game.
Rutgers counters with a front seven that has been playing as well as any in the Big East in recent weeks. The Scarlet Knights held Donald Brown - who entered the game as the nation's top rusher - to just 7 yards in the second half last week. RU is anchored by its linebacking corps that is led by Kevin Malast and Ryan D'Imperio, who have combined for 107 tackles and 9 1/2 tackles for loss.
RU has held its Big East opponents to 13 points per game, including limiting Cincinnati and UConn to a combined 23 points. The defense also scored the game-winning safety in the 12-10 victory versus the Huskies last week.
RU has leaned heavily on sophomore punter/kickoff specialist Teddy Dellaganna in recent weeks, and his kicking was the difference in the 12-10 win against UConn last week. Dellaganna averages 41.9 yards per punt this season, and he had three key kicks last week that pinned UConn inside its own five yard line and earned him Big East Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Place-kicker San San Te made six attempts in a row before missing one last week, and he is 6-for-9 this season with a long of 50 yards. The redshirt freshman has settled into his role after a rough 0-for-2 start in the opener.
Pittsburgh place-kicker Conor Lee is among the nation's best, with just one miss this year in 10 attempts, and he has never missed an extra point attempt. Lee has made eight straight attempts, including four of at least 40 yards. He kicked four field goals and scored 14 points in a 34-24 win at Syracuse Sept. 27.
Punter Dave Bryus has been steady this year, averaging 42 yards per punt. Five of his 22 kicks have landed inside the opponents' 20-yard line, including a 60-yarder in a 21-20 victory against Iowa Sept 20.
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano is 40-51 in his eighth year at Rutgers, but he is 4-3 all-time against Pittsburgh and 3-0 versus Pittsburgh Dave Wannstedt. Schiano has built the Rutgers from nothing into a Big East contender. Rutgers has qualified for three consecutive bowl games under Schiano and has won two straight in the postseason.
Wannstedt's teams have notoriously underperformed under his tutelage, and he is 21-20 in his fourth year without a bowl appearance. The Panthers have been good in one half of the season and bad in the other half under Wannstedt, a Pitt alumnus. To wit: Pitt started 2005 1-4 and finished 5-6; started 6-1 in 2006 and finished 6-6; started 2007 2-0 and finished 5-7.
I gave this one a rest last week, but I'm bringing it back.
Call me a homer, but I like block letters on a uniform in college football. Rutgers has built a great brand with the block R. It's everywhere, and it's a heck of a lot more recognizable than the old "Rutgers NJ" logo. When you wear the Rutgers R, people know what it is. The Scarlet Knights have opted for a smaller "Rutgers" writing on the front of the jersey the last two seasons as they are favoring more form fitting jerseys.
Probably the best thing Dave Wannstedt and this program ever did was dropping the confusing Panther logo that looked nothing like a Panther, cougar, or any other big cat. Along with that 2005 change was the insistence that the University of Pittsburgh never be referred to as Pitt (that was what they had as policy in their media guides). Old is new, almost, as the Panthers did not go with the day-glo orange and script "Pitt" when they changed uniforms.
Still, the Pitt uniforms don't really stand out as unique (I understand
Rutgers is coming off its first win over an FBS opponent, and the Scarlet Knights' defense is playing extremely well. But the offense is struggling and no one has stepped up to take over a game for Rutgers this season. RU has to know it can compete against any team it plays, but the Knights haven't put together a complete game this season.
The victory over USF was huge for this program and may have launched it on its way to the Big East title. For one thing, it took Wannstedt off the hot seat. Pittsburgh followed the USF game by dismantling Navy, a team that beat the Panthers at home last year. Pitt has mitigated turnovers, the defense is playing well, and LeSean McCoy is heating up. The Panthers are playing at home to a crowd that is sure to be fired up for revenge against the Scarlet Knights.
HEAD TO HEAD
Pitt dominated Rutgers early in the season, capturing the first nine games of the series and 11 of the first 14 Big East meetings. Rutgers has captured three straight in the series, but Pitt leads 19-6 all-time. Pitt is 2-1 versus RU at Heinz Field.
Rutgers has ridden a wave of success the last three seasons and has been a team on the rise for a few seasons. The Scarlet Knights dominated their last two bowl opponents and have won the last three in meetings with these teams.
Pitt has been up and down since getting trounced in the Fiesta Bowl by Utah at the end of the 2004 season. Since that time the Panthers have dialed to reach the postseason and are looking for their first bowl bid under Wannstedt.