Fri 11/28/08 12:00 PM
Louisville W 35-21
Radio: Sirius, MSN
Cincinnati L 21-28
Series: UP 60-37-3
First Meeting: 1895
Last Meeting: 2007
WVU - Mike Dent (Neck) Questionable, Chris Neild (Foot) Probable, Courtney Stuart (Head) Doubtful
UP - Adam Gunn (Neck) Out, Shane Murray (Undisclosed) Out
WVU Offense vs. Pitt defense
The Panther defense is led by middle linebacker Scott McKillop, who hovers near the top of the leagues tackling stats. That's a reflection of the unit as a whole, which tackles well. It will be tested by the slippery backs of West Virginia, especially quarterback Pat White. White's last stop at Heinz field was one of the best games of career, when he and running back Steve Slaton each ran for more than 200 yards. Last season Pitt slowed down the vaunted running attack of West Virginia by stacking the box and tackling well. This year with a dedication to a more vertical passing game, it was be interesting to see how the attack plans of West Virginia will change as compared to a year ago.
On the front line, defensive end Greg Romeus spearheads the unit. Romeus, a freshman All-American a year ago, has 39 tackles this season including ten tackles behind the line of and 5 1/2 sacks. A superb all-around athlete at 6-5 and 250 pounds, he gets off the ball in a hurry and has the bounce and arm length to get in the quarterback's face. At the nose is senior Rashaad Duncan, Pitt's best defender against the run. At 6-2 and 295 pounds, he can clog lanes and occasionally shoot the gap to make a play for minus yards. This season he 5 1/2 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks to go along with 43 tackles. Romeus and Duncan both complement each other very well.
At linebacker McKillop is one of the best second level players in the country. McKillop is instinctive, fundamentally sound, and one of the hardest workers on either side of the ball. Almost as good in pass defense as he is at stopping the run, the 6-2, 240-pounder has a nose for the ball and is a tackling machine. This season McKillop has racked up 106 tackles including 14.5 tackles for a loss. He also has four sacks and an interception.
Playing on the outside is Greg Williams, who is a 6-3 215-pound converted running back with raw skills. He has played well this year and won the starting job over the summer. Williams has 39 tackles this season including 4 1/2 tackles for a loss and 2 1/2sacks. Williams is a bit undersized but has great speed and a good nose for the ball.
Most of that defensive backfield returns, headed by junior Aaron Berry, the starter at field cornerback. In his first season as regular, he took some lumps, but did flash the athleticism that portend brighter days in the second half of his career. At 5-11 and 175 pounds, Berry has 36 tackles this season, two tackles for a loss and one interception.
After lettering as a true freshman on special teams, second-year strong safety Dom DeCicco is on the verge of becoming a defenisve force. One of the few big bodies in the defensive backfield at 6-3 and 200 pounds, h's an outstanding athlete with the frame and sure-tackling of a future linebacker. DeCicco showed in the spring that he's ready to become one of the playmakers of the secondary. DeCicco is leading the team with two interceptions and has recorded 30 total tackles.
Overall this defense plays a very disciplined game and rarely makes mistakes. It doesn't force a lot of turnovers or rely on the big play but it can wear offenses down with their physical play and superb tackling. West Virginia will be a test for this team with its elusive backs. Pitt's tackling will be put to the test as West Virginia loves to get their athletes with the ball in space. The biggest advantage that West Virginia has is speed, and as the old saying goes, speed kills.
By The Numbers
WVU Scoring Offense 26.0 ppg, Rushing Offense 231.0 ypg, Passing Offense 134.0 ypg
Pitt Scoring Defense 25.1 ppg, Rushing Defense 115.2 ypg, Passing Defense 209.3 ypg
WVU Defense vs. Pitt Offense
The Pittsburgh offense is nothing that will really wow anyone. They throw the ball for 141.5 yards per game which is good for 111th in the country and they run the ball for 144.2 yards per game behind their star running back LeSean McCoy. They do make the most out of that, however, scoring 29.9 points per game which ranks them 39th in the country. Their offense is built around McCoy and for good reason. The Panther passing attack is serviceable but they certainly do not want to get into a situation where they need to throw the ball a lot.
The Panther passing attack is keyed by quarterback Bill Stull. This season Stull has completed 60% of his passes for 2007 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, he's an accurate passer who won't blow anyone away with his arm strength, but also won't make too many mental mistakes. He has a complete grasp of the offense and is a tough, gritty leader, characteristics that rub off on to the rest of his teammates. The bottom line is that Stull likely won't win the game for Pitt but he will likely not lose the game for them either.
McCoy is the real deal carrying the ball for Pitt. A complete back at 5-11 and 210 pounds, he can pick up the tough yards between the tackles, or bounce outside and make people miss in the open field. He set the Big East freshman rushing record with no help from the passing game and a less than thorough knowledge of the playbook. As a sophomore McCoy has rushed for 1,125 yards and 18 touchdowns and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. If the Mountaineers are able to slow down McCoy they will likely be able to slow down the entire Pitt offense. That will be a difficult task, however.
The second option out of the backfield for Pitt is LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is fast and shifty and makes a great third down back. He brings veteran experience and is a nice changeup from McCoy. At 5-7 and 180 pounds he is a speed guy who is also a threat in the passing game
Receivers Jonathan Baldwin and T.J Porter spark the passing game. Baldwin has 16 catches for 382 yards and three touchdowns. He is a big receiver at 6-6 225 pounds and doesn't possess blazing speed, but can be a big play receiver and out jump most cornerbacks downfield. Porter, a junior, has 21 receptions for 327 yards. Porter is an athletic receiver at 6-1 195 pounds.
The veteran of the rebuilt line issenior C.J. Davis. The 6-3, 315-pound Davis is best on running downs when he can drive block. Junior guard John Malecki, a former defensive tackle still getting comfortable in his new surroundings, is tough and very physical at 6-3 and 275 pounds. At center is junior college transfer Robb Houser. At 6-2 and 285 pounds, he was coveted for his power and quickness getting to the second level, filling a large need for the Panthers.
Playing tackle will be junior Joe Thomas and sophomore Jason Pinkston. The 6-5, 300-pound Thomas can be nasty at the point of contact and has started seven games in each of the last two seasons, but hasn'y quite lived up to expectations since being a big time recruit. Pinkston was on his way to becoming something special before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the final nine games a year ago. At 6-4 and 300 pounds, he has the footwork and quickness to eventually emerge into one of the league's premier pass blockers.
By The Numbers
WVU Scoring Defense 16.5 ppg, Rushing Defense 126.1 ypg, Passing Defense 194.3 ypg
Pitt Scoring Offense 29.9 ppg, Rushing Offense 144.2 ypg, Passing Offense 225.8 ypg
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Special Teams vs. Pitt Special Teams
Senior Conor Lee is the jewel of the Pittsburgh special teams. He is a dead accurate kicker who?s rarely off target. Entering his third-year as a starter he' nailed 30-of-36 career field goals and all 75 of his extra points. While the 5-11, 195-pounder is virtually automatic on the intermediate kicks, the Panthers have never asked him to make an attempt beyond 50 yards. Lee is 18-20 on the year for field goals with a long of 44 yards.
At punter, senior Dave Brytus was a mild disappointment in his debut with the program, lacking consistency and averaging just 39.6 yards a punt. The 6-4, 230-pounder did, however, improve his hang time, as more than one-third of his punts had to be fair caught. Back to return punts is junior Aaron Berry who is averaging 5.4 yards per return with a long of 24.
WVU's kickoff coverage woes aren't totally repaired yet, and while its punt team remain outstanding, ordinary return teams haven't done much to give the Mountaineers a lift either.
By The Numbers
WVU Net Punting 40.5 yards per punt, Kickoff Returns 21.5 yards per return , Punt Returns 8.2 yards per return
Pitt Net Punting 36.8 yards per punt , Kickoff Returns 20.2 yards per return, Punt Returns 7.1 yards per return
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Dorrell Jalloh
On Defense: Scooter Berry
Bill Stewart can say that revenge won't play a factor is this game, but I'm not buying it. I think on some level the memory of last year's loss has to be in the back of the player's minds and should be a motivating factor. West Virginia has done well to slow down top running backs this year, including UConn's Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher at the time. Brown is not as shifty as McCoy but with their track record against the run this season and West Virginia's speed on offense, I like West Virginia to go on the road and pick up a victory.
WVU - 35 Pitt - 17