WVU defensive back Richard Bryant vs. Pitt wide receiver Antonio Bryant
This matchup is easy to pick out as a key, but there are a couple of aspects that haven't been touched on during other examinations of this featured battle.
We want to see how Richard bounces back after what was arguable his worst outing of the season against Temple. Richard gave up too much cushion on several Owl pass plays, and also lost his composure with a big personal foul on a Temple scoring drive.
It will also be interesting to see if Richard follows Antonio to either side of the field, or whether the Mountaineers will allow Lance Frazier to cover Antonio at times.
WVU defensive ends Kevin Freeman and James Davis vs. Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford
Yes, we know that Rutherford doesn't start, but he's a key component of Pitt's red zone and short yardage teams.
Rutherford often comes into the game to run options, quarterback draws and other plays especially desinged for him in thos situations, and the Mountaineers must switch from a pass first to a run first mentality when that happens.
WVU's defensive ends must concentrate on keeping Rutherford in the pocket if he drops for an apparent pass, because he's just as likely to take off running with the ball. They also must be prepared to string him out if he comes down the line on option plays and quarterback sweeps.
WVU whip Shawn Hackett vs. Pitt tight end Kris Wilson
Therefore, Hackett will again be on the hot seat as he checks Wilson during many passing situations. The Panthers will try to use Hackett's aggressiveness against him with play action fakes. Hackeet has had an up and down year against the pass, and must play a solid game in order to remove a weapon from the Pitt passing attack.
THINGS TO WATCH:
Both WVU and Pitt have given up more poitns than they've scored in the second half this year, so the team that wins that battle figures to have a leg on winning the game. WVU has been crushed by a 145-94 margin in the third and fourth quarters combined, while Pitt is on the short end of a 110-77 margin.
What looks on the surface to be a battle of passing games could evolve into a showdown of running quarterbacks. Mountaineer fans are well aware of WVU's passing struggles this year, and if David Preistley is out of the game Pitt will be relying on the scrambling and running of Rod Rutherford.
Unless that happens, though, Pitt has a decided edge on offense, as Priestly has been red hot of late throwing the ball.
We talked about Pitt trying to take advantage of the aggressivness of Shawn Hackett, but turnabout could be fair play. The Panthers have their own ultra gressive safety in Ramon Walker, who WVU could be able to bring up to the line of scrimmage with some run fakes. The question is, will WVU commit to throwing five or six deep post patterns in the game?
Finally, we're providing a call for a return of Antonio Brown to the punt return team. While Brown may have struggled to catch every punt on the fly, his replacement, Lance Frazier, ahs had the same problem. With that facet even, we think Antonio's game breaking speed should be on the field against Pitt's porous punt coverage, which gives up a hideous 10.3 yards per return.