FACTS AND FACTORS
No. 24 Utah (0-0, 0-0 MWC) hosts No. 15/15 Pittsburgh (0-0, 0-0 Big East) in the season opener for both teams on Thur., Sept. 2. Game time is 6:30 p.m. in Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game will be televised live on VERSUS. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com) and Westwood One (national radio).
The Utes defeated Pitt in their only matchup in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl 35-7.
Utah has two streaks going: 17-straight home wins and nine straight bowl wins (the nation's longest current bowl win streak).
The NCAA recognizes the first victory of Kyle Whittingham's head coaching career as Utah's 2005 Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh. Whittingham served as co-head coach that game with Urban Meyer and both coaches were credited with a win. Whittingham enters his sixth full season as a head coach with a 48-17 overall record.
The Utes are tied for No. 24 with West Virginia in the preseason USA Today Coaches' Poll. It marks the second-straight year—and the second time in school history—that Utah has been ranked in the preseason. In 2009, the Utes were ranked No. 19 by A.P. and No. 18 by the coaches.
Utah hopes to snap a winless streak in season-openers against a foe ranked in the A.P. poll. The Utes are 0-5 against A.P.-ranked teams in season openers, with losses to No. 17 UCLA in 1956, No. 14 Nebraska in 1968, No. 20 Texas Tech in 1973, No. 5 Oklahoma in 1977 and No. 11 Nebraska in 1992. In the first game of 2008, the Utes beat a Michigan team that was ranked No. 24 in the coaches' preseason poll.
Utah has won its last three home games against ranked foes, beating No. 11 UCLA in 2007, No. 11 TCU in 2008 and No. 16 Brigham Young in 2008.
Pitt is coming off a 10-3 2009 campaign including a victory over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Running back Dion Lewis and defensive end Greg Romeus were each 2009 All Big East first team unanimous selections.
Head coach Dave Wannstedt is in his sixth year at Pitt and has a 35-26 record.
Utah's Offense versus Pitt's Defense
The Utes feature one of the top running back duos in the country in Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata and should be able to put up big yardage behind a veteran offensive line, specifically left guard Caleb Schluaderaff who is one of the top run blockers in the nation. The linebacking trio of Greg Williams, Max Gruder, and Dan Mason is a solid, but not spectacular group. They'll have their hands full all day with Wide and Asiata, especially when both are lined up in the backfield at the same time.
Pitt needs to replace both corners from 2009, but believe they at least one solid one in Antwaun Reed. Reed has two very good and experienced safeties playing behind him in Dom Decicco and Jared Holley. DeCicco is a returning All Big East performer. Shutting down Jereme Brooks will be the priority, but with the Utes' plethora of receivers, anyone of Luke Matthews, Shaky Smithson, or DeVonte Christopher is bound to go off if Brooks gets too much attention.
The big matchup is going to pit (pun intended) All American defensive end Greg Romeus against Ute newcomer and left tackle John Cullen. Cullen was the top rated JC offensive linemen recruit in the country and has mostly lived up to the billing through fall practice. While Cullen is very quick and athletic, he's somewhat undersized at only 275-280 pounds leaving him succeptible to a bull-rush from a big strong player like Romeus. Caleb Schlauderaff will likely help out with a double team often on Romeus, especially if he's lined up inside of Cullen. At the other defensive end spot Jabaal Sheard is another elite player that right tackle Tony Bergstrom gets to deal with. If the Utes line can keep Romeus and Sheard out of the backfield and give Jordan Wynn the 2-3 seconds he needs to find a receiver, the Utes should be able to put up a few points.
Pitt's Offense versus Utah's Defense
Expect a steady stream of Dion Lewis as the Heisman Trophy Candidate looks to continue where he left off in 2009 after rushing for 1,799 yards as a true freshman. While offensive tackles Lucas Nix and Jason Pinkston are all conference candidates and should keep new starting quarterback Tino Sunseri fairly clean while creating holes for Lewis, Pitt is replacing 3 starters on the interior of the offensive line, including a center that was a former walk-on for a team that finished 34th in the nation in rushing. The inexperience in the middle of the line plays to the Utes strength with defensive tackles Sealver Siliga and Dave Kruger arguably their top two defenders. If those two can disrupt the middle, and blow up running plays with penetration, the Utes might be able to hold Lewis under 120 yards. If not, Lewis could put up numbers closer to 200 yards. Getting linebacker J.J. Williams back from injury could help slow Lewis somewhat, but with the lack of talent at linebacker right now while having to replace all three starters, he's still going to put up big numbers regardless of who's on the field.
Despite having one of the top running backs in the nation, the Panthers still finished 52nd in the country in passing offense displaying a versatile attack. Wide receiver Johnathon Baldwin is arguably the top receiver in the Big East after hauling in over 1,100 yards worth of catches last year and 8 touchdowns. Brandon Burton will be lined up against Baldwin in a matchup of All American candidates. The Burton-Baldwin matchup is huge. Holding Baldwin to 5 catches or less and under 60 yards in single coverage will allow the safeties to pinch up towards the line of scrimmage and help in run support in an attempt to contain Lewis. The Panthers are fairly thin at receiver after Baldwin with Sophomore Mike Shanahan lining up at the other wide receiver spot. Shanahan caught 15 balls in 2009, but is also a former basketball player making him an end-zone threat with his leaping ability. With Utah's smaller corners, Shanahan will look to use his size to his advantage. Pitt likes to use the tight end a lot, but are replacing their top two from 2009. If fall camp was any indication though, Utah may have problems covering the tight end.
The wild card is the quarterback ad sophomore Sunseri. He's had limited game action so far, but is a dual-threat quarterback who can break off a 20 yard run if the pocket breaks down. Containing Sunseri's legs and rattling him early with a few big hits could throw him off of his game. Pitt coaches are hoping that Sunseri can manage the game and make few mistakes in his first career start.
Dan Hutchins is one of the best dual-kickers in the country as he handles both punting and kicking duties for Pitt. In 2009, he connected on 23-29 field goal attempts. Joe Phillips and Sean Sellwood are two of the better kickers and punters in the country in their own regard. Neither team has kick or punt return games that have shown much to be considered dangerous.
Both head coaches are defensive guys. Wanny has coached in the league while Whitt is arguably the top non-BCS coach in the country. Wannstedt's tenure has been viewed as somewhat of a disappointment, while Kyle Whittingham could probably get a lifetime contract from the U right now if he wanted one. Both coaching staffs are solid, but Utah's coaches are some of the best in the country at getting their team up for big games as evidenced by the 9 straight bowl wins.
The only time these two faced each other was the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, when almost every player playing on Thursday was still in high school, and some still in middle school, including Dion Lewis. The Utes beat up on a Panthers team that was arguably the worst to ever play in a BCS bowl game.
The temperatures on Thursday looks to be sunny with game time temps around 75 degrees and little wind. With the Utes likely to pass more than Pitt, they enjoy a small advantage.
The fans will be out in full force for Utah giving them a significant home field advantage. Pitt doesn't travel a ton of fans and a cross country trip to Salt Lake City probably isn't high on their list of priorities.
On paper, these two teams are about as evenly matched as you're going to find. If Utah was in the Big East and Pitt in the MWC, their preseason rankings would likely be flipped. Trying to determine what a team is going to look like before their first game is never easy, especially with a team like Pitt that has historically underachieved.
Both offenses figure to be very good with two of the top 10 running games in the country. The defenses will also be good, but do have holes that can be exploited and new starters to break in.
The Utes dominate the total yardage battle with over 500 yards as Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide combine for over 200 yards and 2 touchdown on the ground while Jordan Wynn throws for another 250 with a touchdown to Jereme Brooks who has 10 catches, but the offense is constantly stalled once getting into the red zone and forced to settle for field goals.
Dion Lewis counters with 180 yards of his own and 3 touchdowns as the linebackers struggle to contain him and the defensive ends are only able to get to Sunseri for one sack. Sunseri throws for an efficient 150 yards on 12-17 passing helping keep his team in the game.
A Wynn interception is returned by linebacker Greg Williams for a touchdown late in the third quarter giving Pitt an 1 point lead entering the fourth quarter. Each team exchanges field goals in the fourth quarter as Pitt maintains the lead.
Let me say this; if this game was in Pittsburgh, I'd take the Panthers. Luckily for the Utes, it's in Salt Lake City as Wynn leads the Utes down the field after a Ray Graham fumble setting up kicker Joe Phillips for the game winner, his fourth of the game, with under a minute left as Utah gets the season started with a huge victory.
Utah 33 Pitt 31
Game Preview- Utah v Pitt
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