WVU defensive back Lance Frazier vs. Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald
This matchup obviously didn't reuire a great deal of analysis! Pitt's super freshman has been wowing the nation with his acrobatic catches, and although his numbers aren't blinding (53 catches for 758 yards) it seems that every catch he makes is a big one.
Fitzerald is especially tough on fade patterns, where he usues his height and size to shield defenders and make catches with his excellent hands.
Frazier will have a tough battle on his hands against Fitzgerald, giving up five inches and twenty pounds to his Panther opponent. Frazier is a good cover corner, and has protected well against the long ball this year, but muscling up with foes isn't his strong suit.
WVU tight end Josh Bailey vs. Pitt linebacker Lewis Moore
The Mountianeer tight ends have been a bit quiet in recent weeks, but that trend could reverse itself on Saturday.
Those types of plays could be very effective against Pittsburgh's very active linebacking corps. Moore, along with Gerald Hayes and Brian Beinecke, are agressive and excellent pursuers of the ball, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the WVU coaching staff try to use those strengths against them, and get them to bite on strong flow fakes to one side of the field.
This matchup will depend on the strategy Pitt is using to defend against Marshall (more on that later), but it coule be a big part of the WVU gameplan.
WVU linebacker James Davis vs. Pitt offensive tackle Rob Petitti
This matchup won't occur often, but when it does, it figures to have a big impact on the outcome of a play. Davis has been a huge disruptive force, especially over the second half of the season. The active backer has racked up 107 tackles, including 12 1/2 behind the line, and four quarterback sacks. He's also put 18 hits on the quarterback, often rushing throws and forcing incompletions.
On the Panther side, Petitti, along with help from backs and tight ends, will have to account for Davis and keep him out of the face (or off the backk, of quarterback Rod Rutherford. This is a classic matchup of speed (Davis} versus size (Petitti is 6-6 and 330 popunds). Which one will prove victorious on the hideous turf of Heinz Field?
THINGS TO WATCH
At first glance, Pitt's statistics aren't outstanding. The Panthers average just 3.4 yards per rush and a respectable, though not eye-popping, 355 yards per game. So how have they fashioned their 8-3 record?
The answer is, in a very similar fashion to West Virginia. The Panthers take care of the ball, and are second in the Big East in turnover margin to, you guessed it, WVU. Pitt grinds hard on every possession, both offensively and defensively, and simply wear down opponents with their hard hitting defense. Pitt's special teams are also providing a spark, as their punt and return games are among the best in the conference.
The only major difference is in their offense - the Panthers are getting more production through the air, while WVU's ground game has been their offensive linchpin.
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Will Pitt's defense focus on eliminating Rasheed Marshall from the rushing attack, as Boston College and Virginia Tech did? That strategy opened more holes inside for Avon Cobourne and Quincy Wilson. Or will the Panthers bring up a safety, try to load the inside, and force WVU to run wide in a speed battle?
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It's been talked about all week, but the turf at Heinz Field will have a major impact on the game. Conventional wisdom is that bad footing favors a running team, but it also can help a passing attack, as defensive backs forced to make sharp cuts in response to receiver moves can be at a disadvantage as well.
Pitt's embarrassing debacle with this playing surface brings to mind a similar episode at Rutgers a few years ago, where the Knights were forced to replace their turf several times over the period of a couple of years.
Even though new turf is getting put down this week, don't expect it to improve matters a lot. It simply won't have any time to set or take root.
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For about the tenth week this year, West Virginia faces an outstanding punter, this time in the form of Andy Lee. Pitt has won several field position battles this year on the strength of Lee's leg, and with two physical defenses, bad weather and a crappy field, every yard is going to be valuable.
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