Preview: West Virginia - Pitt

The BCS bowl implications for Thursday night's game simply makes the anticipation for the Backyard Brawl all the more exciting. Game Scorecard
Series: Pitt 59-36-3
Thu 11/16 7:30 p.m.
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Heinz Field
Record: 8-1
USA/Coaches: 8
Last Game
UC W 42-24

Click for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Forecast
Record: 6-4
USA/Coaches: N/A
Last Game
UConn L 45-46
Rosters/ Bios
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Season Stats
2006 Schedule
First Meeting: 1895
Last Meeting: 2005
Press Release
Season Stats
2006 Schedule

Common Opponents to Date:

Cincinnati - (WVU W 41-17) / (Pitt W 33-15)

Syracuse - (WVU W 44-17) / (Pitt W 21-11)

Connecticut - WVU W 37-11) / (Pitt L 45-46)


WVU: Owen Schmitt (Knee) Probable, John Holmes (Ankle) Questionable, Larry Williams (Knee) Questionable

UP: Chris McKillop (Knee) Out, Eric Thatcher (Ankle) Out, Doug Fulmer (Out), John Simonitis (Ankle) Out

Game Outlook:

WVU offense vs. UP defense

Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt vowed to improve his defense, but the results of the Panthers' offseason efforts haven't been what he had hoped.
Game Info
WVU 8-1, 3-1
Pitt 6-4, 2-3
Thu 11/16 7:30 p.m.
Heinz Field
Series: Pitt 59-36-3
BCS: WVU 8th - UP N/A
Harris: WVU 7th - UP N/A
Line: WVU -11
The Panther defense has been average at best, with problems against the run still apparent. Defensive tackles Gus Mustakas (6-3, 265) and Corey Davis (6-2, 290) have trouble getting off blocks to shut down the inside run. The pair has combined for 40 tackles, and Davis owns two quarterback sacks.

Ends Joe Clermond (6-3, 260) and McKenzie Matthews (6-2, 225) are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Clermond is Pitt's best front line defender, with 44 tackls, including 14 behind the line of scrimmage. Mathews, who replaced the injured Chris McKillop, has six tackles in limited action this year.

Linebacker H.B. Blades gets all the publicity on the Pitt defense due to his numbers. He has been credited with 126 tackles through ten games, and only one teammate, Clint Sessions, has more total tackles (83) than Blades has solo stops (74). The all Big East performer will be counted on to keep WVU runners from gashing the Panther defense inside.

Blades is flanked by Session (6-0, 235) and sophomore Tommie Campbell (6-3, 210). Session is a solid defender in his own right, and would be a star on many teams. Campbell has added 42 tackles to the linebacking crew's formidable totals.

The secondary is anchored by junior cornerback Darrelle Revis (6-0, 200), a starter since his freshman season. He has two interceptions and three pass breakups to lead the secondary. Opposite Revis is Kennard Cox (6-1, 195), another tall corner with size that can help against the run, as his 45 tackles attest. The safeties are Sam Bryant (6-0, 220) and Mike Phillips (5-11, 200). Bryant leads the secondary in tackles with 48, and also has five pass breakups. Phillips chips in with 23 stops.

By The Numbers :
WVU is ranked third in total offense (462.89 yds/game), second in rushing offense (318.22 yds/game) and 106th in passing offense (144.67 yds/game)

Pitt is ranked 52nd in total defense (321.70 yds/game), 90th in rushing defense (157.60 yds/game) and 32nd in passing efficiency defense (137.20 rating).

Advantage: WVU

WVU defense vs. UP offense

The Panther offense revolves around quarterback Tyler Palko, who displays his Pennsylvania roots in both his passing skills and leadership abilities. Palko (6-2, 220) often carries his team's fortunes on his back. He is second in the nation in passing efficiency (173.76) and completes 68.5% of his passes. He has thrown 22 touchdowns while suffering just six interceptions.

Behind Palko, fullback Conredge Collins (6-0, 235) is a classic blocking back who gets few touches, while tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling (5-9, 175) has the sort of speed Wannstedt hopes to see across the board. Collins has just 25 carries on the season for 98 yards, but does a good job clearing the way for Stephens-Howling, who averages 5.1 yards per carry. Each geta a pss or two thrown his way per game as well, and have combined for 26 receptions and 277 yards from Palko passes.

The receiving corps is very good, and perhaps a bit underrated. Derek Kinder (6-1, 205) and Oderick Turner (6-3, 200) give Palko a pair of effective passcatchers on the outside, and prevent opposing defenses from paying too much attention to either. Kinder has 40 receptions for 681 yards, while Turner adds 34 receptions for 507 markers. In addition, Palko has a wapon in tight end Steve buches, who has 21 catches for 259 yards and four scores. Marcel Pestano, the third wideout, has 18 catches for another 310 yards. In all, seven Panthers have at least 13 receptions, which makes them very difficult to defend.

The revamped offensive line has also shown great improvement from a year ago, when it sturggled at times to provide running room. Junior tackle Jeff Otha (6-6, 340) was a WVU recruiting target out of junior college, and has stepped in to a starting role. Freshman guard Joe Thomas (6-4, 285) has also provided an upgrade in the line's interior.

They are joined by guard C.J. Davis, center Joe Villani and tackle Mike McGlynn, forming a quintent that has been productive for the Panthers. Pitt averages 4.2 yards per carry on the ground, and has yielded just 13 sacks in 244 pass attempts.

By The Numbers :
WVU is ranked 35th in total defense (303.89 yds/game), 10th in rushing defense (88.44 yds/game) and 21st in passing efficiency defense (107.56).

UP is ranked 35th in total offense (372.90 yds/game), 56th in rushing offense (140.70 yds/game) and 30th in passing offense (232.20 yds/game).

Advantage: Pitt

WVU special teams vs. UP special teams

Senior Adam Graessle has bounced back from a muscle pull to again be one of the top punters in the east. The 6-4, 220-pounder averages 41.y yards per punt, and had put 18 of his 43 kicks inside the 20. Even better, he has only one touchback this year. The senior also handles kickoffs, and has put 20 of his 56 tries into the end zone for touchbacks.
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Placekicker Conor Lee has had an excellent year, making nine of his 11 field goal tries. Oddly enough, his two misses came from the point blank ranges of 19 and 27 yards. He is perfect on extra points, however, making all 41 of his attempts.

Pitt's kickoff return game is solid, with Lowell Robinson handling the lion's share of the duties. He averages 30.1 yards per runback and also has a 97-yard return for a TD. He will be tested by West Virginia's mixed back of kickoff tactics. Punt returns are at the opposite end of the spectrum as Pitt averages just 5.7 yards per return. Revis, a speedy and elusive runner, hasn't been able to shake free much as the Panthers' primary return man.

The Panthers are solid on coverage teams, however. Pitt is yielding 7.8 yards per punt return, and a stingy 20.1 yards per kickoff return.

By The Numbers:
WVU is ranked 15th in net punting (37.59 yds/punt), 25th in kick returns (22.58 yds/return) and 38th in punt returns (10.47 yds/return).

UP is ranked 18th in net punting (37.30 yds/punt), 7th in kick returns (25.54 yds/return) and 104th in punt returns (5.70 yds/return)

Advantage: Push

Picks to Click:

On Offense: Darius Reynaud

On Defense: Keilen Dykes

Totally Useless Facts:

  • The Pitt Golden Panther Club -- a fundraising organization for Pitt athletics -- was routinely cited as one of the reasons for Pitt's athletic excellence in the 1970s. It was also cited as the alleged culprit in a number of shady recruiting practices.

  • College football maven Beano Cook was once the sports information director at Pitt

  • Head coach Dave Wannstedt does not allow injured players that aren't practicing to be interviewed by the media. Apparently that would slow the healing process in some manner.


West Virginia will surely have problems with the Pitt passing game. Likewise, the Panthers will again experience difficulty slowing the Mountaineer running attack. In a battle of strengths, which will prove more formidable?

In the end, it comes down to a question of weapons. Even with Owen Schmitt slowed, West Virginia appears to have more. Another win for the road team in the Backyard Brawl.

WVU - 37 UP - 31

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