Here are some thoughts on the eve of Pitt’s game with Connecticut at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Heinz Field.
** Pitt is a 7.5 point favorite over the Huskies, according to the Vegas oddsmakers. That is the exact same spread as the Navy game. I would definitely give the edge to UConn against the Midshipmen at a neutral site, which means Pitt is starting to get a little more respect in terms of being as an offensive team, at least from the guys who make the spreads. And that extra half-point – from 7 to 7.5 – is very telling from a oddsmaker’s perspective.
** The Big East pecking order remains a little cloudy, but one thing is certain. With a victory over UConn on Saturday, Pitt will improve to 2-0 and be alone in first place in the Big East. The other two 1-0 teams in the conference, Cincinnati and South Florida, are idle this week before their nationally-televised Oct. 15 showdown in Tampa. West Virginia at Syracuse is the only other Big East game this weekend and means that after this weekend – nearly two weeks into October – Pitt and Syracuse will be the only Big East teams who have played more than one conference game. Check back in mid-November for a better idea of the Big East. There is so much more to be played.
** Amazingly the Connecticut running game hasn’t regressed at all despite the fact last year’s stud, Donald Brown, is now taking handoffs from Peyton Manning. The Huskies are the only team in the nation with two of the top 30 rushers – Jordan Todman (99.0 ypg) and Andre Dixon (92.0). Pitt has done just as well replacing two NFL backs, LeSean McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling, with freshmen Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. Wannstedt said there are no plans to split carries despite Graham’s career-best game (12 carries, 75 yards, 1 TD) at Louisville. Lewis is the starter and Graham will spell him.
** Perhaps more than any game this season, the Pitt offensive line is going to be the determining factor. The Huskies have the No. 8-ranked run defenses in the nation, and D-coordinator and Central Catholic graduate Todd Orlando has no qualms about stacking eight men in the box and forcing the opposing quarterback to perform. If Pitt can muster any sort of a running game – whether they pass effectively to loosen up the defense or simply outmuscle the Huskies – the results should be positive.
** On defense, Pitt’s key to victory – surprise – is slowing Connecticut’s two-pronged running attack. That would force the Huskies to throw the ball and play right into Pitt’s strength (pressuring the QB) and into UConn’s weakness (pass blocking) The Huskies’ quarterback has been sacked 11 times in 103 pass attempts, ranking 100th in the nation. (By comparison Pitt has allowed three sacks in 126 pass attempts). Pitt, meanwhile, leads the nation in sacks with 23 and Washington, Pa., native Cody Endres is not a scrambling quarterback (his longest run this year is 5 yards).