Football: Panthers to face an emotional Rutgers team

By Kelly Flanigan

When the Panthers take the field against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights tomorrow, they will look to… When the Panthers take the field against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights tomorrow, they will look to build on momentum they established last week.

Fans saw a promising change in the Panthers’ play against Syracuse last Saturday that deviated from their disappointing nonconference performance. It seemed they finally put together four solid quarters of Panther football.

Pitt (3-3, 1-0 Big East) unleashed an aerial attack against the Orange, as quarterback Tino Sunseri had his best game of the season. He threw for 266 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

“There are a number of guys that continue to make progress, like Tino. He’s making good decisions, but the most encouraging thing to me is that he’s protecting the football,” head coach Dave Wannstedt said. “When you can come out of the game and not have any turnovers, we’re going to have a chance to win every week.”

“The most encouraging thing other than the win was to see some players step up into roles that we’ve been counting on,” he said.

One of those players is Pitt running back Ray Graham, a New Jersey native, who will see his brother, Khaseem Greene, in Saturday’s game. Greene is a starting free safety for the Scarlet Knights.

“That’ll be interesting,” Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said. “I’m sure it will be a little weird, but once you start playing, it’s football.”

Last year, Pitt defeated Rutgers 24-17 in Piscataway, N.J. But this year, Wannstedt said the Panthers face a very different opponent.

“On offense, they’re a spread team, they throw the ball around the field, and they run the Wildcat. They have a pressure defense,” he said. “They do a lot of movement up front, and they’re very good on special teams. This will be different for us, and we’ll have to pick our game up another notch.”

The Scarlet Knights (4-2, 1-1 Big East) boast a 27-24 score over fellow conference member Connecticut. Last week, the team took Army into overtime, ultimately winning 23-20.

Despite the win, Rutgers faced a disheartening incident in the Army game. Junior Eric LeGrand suffered a C3-C4 spinal cord injury and is currently paralyzed in the hospital after having undergone emergency surgery.

But the team is forced to move on, focusing on the matchup that Pitt will present tomorrow.

“I think now what’s happened is that [Pitt’s] offense has really found their stride,” Schiano said. “Their defense has played very well, and they have gotten better and better as a team. I have seen it on tape. They have two great tailbacks and probably the best fullback in America in [Henry] Hynoski.”

Schiano cites that a major problem plaguing the Scarlet Knights this season is discipline and mental toughness in relation to penalties.

“I’m sick about it. We’ve got to do something to get it corrected. Some of it is we’re inexperienced in some positions and we’re jumpy. We had six illegal procedure penalties. That’s just being jumpy, and we need to get that calmed down,” Schiano said.

Additionally, he expressed concerns about the strength of the offensive line protecting the quarterback. If Pitt blitzes, this could present a major dilemma for the Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers’ quarterback Chas Dodd, a freshman, has thrown five touchdowns and 755 total yards so far this season after taking over for Tom Savage. The team has a versatile wide receiver in sophomore Mohamed Sanu. He has six touchdowns on the season and is a target for both receiving and rushing the football. The team sometimes uses him out of the Wildcat formation.

Running back Joe Martinek is an effective runner out of the backfield and has two touchdowns on the season.

Wannstedt was also quick to give the Scarlet Knights credit. He cites Rutgers’ defense as second-best in the Big East with only  West Virginia ahead of it.

“Nobody will force the blitzing issue as much as Rutgers will. If you look at their team, three of their wins came in the fourth quarter with their defense making big plays and turnovers, giving them the opportunity to win,” he said. “We need to focus on protecting the ball, and this will be a 60-minute game.”