Thu 11/24/05 8:00
Morgantown, W. Va.
BCS Rank: 11
UC 38-0 W
Rtn Lettermen: 41
Rtn Starters: 17
BCS Rank: 65
UConn 24-0 W
Rtn Lettermen: 48
Rtn Starters: 18
Last Meeting: 2004
West Virginia is 21-4 in its last 25 Big East games, while Pitt is 22-8. Those are the types of records the teams at the top of the conference will need to have over the next two or three seasons to help the Big East keep its automatic bid.
STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE?
Perhaps all those West Virginia fans that want a more balanced attack would be happier with Pitt's offense. The Panthers have run the ball 371 times and passed it 304. Assuming that approximately 40 of quarterback Tyler Palko's 64 carries were actually passing plays that turned into scrambles, Pitt's run-pass ratio is pretty much 50-50. Of course, the same thing can be said for their record.
Neither coach can apparently resist slipping a barb in the other's direction in the days leading up to the game. WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez noted that the Mountaineers had more to play for than a low bowl bid or the satisfaction of knocking its foe from a lofty ranking, while Pitt mentor Dave Wannstedt downplayed WVU's recruiting efforts in the Western Pennsylvania area.
Anytime two alpha dogs clash, there are going to be sparks. Rodriguez and Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, both high-energy Type A personalities, reportedly aren't on the best of terms, and it looks as if the relationship between the NFL head coaching washout and the rising college mentor might be headed in the same direction. Of course, it probably won't have any effect on the outcome of the game, but it could make for some frosty moments following the contest.
Eighteen seniors will run through the tunnel and onto Mountaineer Field for the last time as players. While you cheer for the stars that carry, thrown and tackle the ball, be sure to get to the game early enough to give every one of these players a big cheer. Jahmile Addae, Matt Ameri, Josh Bailey, Phil Brady, Arlen Dorsey, Travis Garrett, Aaron Howell, Ernest Hunter, David Igono, Garin Justice, Mike Lorello, Dee McCann, Brad McClung, Anthony Mims, Dwayne Mundle, Jeff Noechel, George Shehl and Thandi Smith have all contributed, in ways large and small, to the success of the WVU program.
RACE TO THE FINISH
Bandit Mike Lorello and linebacker Boo McLee are tied atop WVU's tackle chart with 60 stops each. The pair are tied for second on the team in stops behind the line, with each having six such hits (defensive lineman Keilen Dykes leads with seven). It should be interesting to see which talented defender ends up on top of this category. Although neither would admit wanting it, the title of top tackler is a nice line to have on your resume.
One of the most interesting showdowns in the contest will be West Virginia's defensive back five against the passing of Tyler Palko. WVU did an excellent job on a frigid night in Pittsburgh a year ago, holding the Panther passer to 165 yards through the air and forcing 24 incompletions. Palko got the last laugh by engineering a late drive for a touchdown to eke out the disputed win, but showed along the way that he is a gamer that can never be counted out.
With similar weather conditions expected to prevail on Thanksgiving night in Morgantown, WVU will likely use many of the same tactics they employed a year ago to keep Palko from lighting up the stat sheet. He has accounted for 12 touchdowns in Pitt's last five games, in which the Panthers have earned four wins.
RED (ALERT) ZONE
Aside from all the low yardage per carry stats that have been bandied about in recent days, there's another metric that illustrates Pitt's inability to run the football consistently – touchdown percentage in the red zone. While the Panthers have scored on 29 of their 37 trips inside opponents' 20-yard lines, 10 of those have been field goals. The Panthers are thus scoring touchdowns just 51.4% of the time when they hit point-blank scoring range.
West Virginia, with its more physical ground based attack, fares much better. The Mountaineers are 30-36 overall in the red zone, but 26 of those 30 scores were of the six point variety. WVU's TD percentage is a much better 72.2%
SOME KIND OF RECORD
WVU's opponents have still not missed a placekick against the Mountaineers this year. Foes are 10-10 on field goal tries and 15-15 on points after touchdowns. I can't think of a more suitable time to end this streak than Thursday night.