Pitt looks for sixth straight victory

By Alex Oltmanns

‘ ‘ ‘ Riding a five-game winning streak and fresh off a convincing 21-point win over Navy, the… ‘ ‘ ‘ Riding a five-game winning streak and fresh off a convincing 21-point win over Navy, the Pitt football team is suddenly living up to all the hype that surrounded the team this offseason, as it is currently ranked No. 17 in the first Bowl Championship Series rankings. ‘ ‘ ‘ The next task for the Panthers (5-1, 2-0 Big East) are the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-5, 1-2 Big East), a team that has a three-game winning streak against Pitt. The two teams square off on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Heinz Field. ‘ ‘ ‘ The teams last met Nov. 17, when Pitt lost a tough game at Rutgers, 20-16, in which Oderick Turner’s touchdown was called back for offensive pass interference on what would have put the Panthers ahead late in the game. ‘ ‘ ‘ This has been a tough season for the Scarlet Knights and head coach Greg Schiano. They struggled through their nonconference schedule, going 1-3, with the only win coming against Division 1-AA Morgan State. Rutgers is looking to string two wins together for the first time this season, coming off a tight 12-10 win against Connecticut. ‘ ‘ ‘ Rutgers is a program that has experienced a resurgence under Schiano, going to three straight bowl games after being traditionally regarded as one of the worst programs in Division I. ‘ ‘ ‘ Rutgers fifth-year quarterback and team leader Mike Teel has struggled, along with much of the rest of the team so far this season. Yet, despite their record, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt knows the Scarlet Knights are still a formidable opponent. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Rutgers may be the best two-win team in the country,’ said Wannstedt. ‘With them winning the game [against Connecticut], I think it was a very big momentum boost.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Wannstedt stated that the Panthers have to be ready for what Rutgers will throw at them on defense. That defense is led by linebackers Ryan D’Imperio and Kevin Malast, who is currently second in the Big East in tackles. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Defensively, I think personally they’re playing as good as any defense I’ve had a chance to watch,’ said Wannstedt. ‘They do a lot of movement ‘mdash; they pressure you a lot.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ For that reason, it is essential that the offensive line continues to play well, a trend that Wannstedt has been pleased with recently. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘They seem to be playing better and better each week,’ said Wannstedt. ‘We’d like to think we’re getting a little better physically, but I think the most important thing for our offensive line is that communication with each other.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Individually, offensive guard C.J. Davis has been one of the leaders working hard on a daily basis, providing a strong example for the younger players. Wannstedt credited Davis with playing hard every practice, which is apparent on game days. He also stated that Davis was the best player on the offensive line against Navy. ‘ ‘ ‘ The team’s quick turnaround can also be attributed to a more complete team effort, but more specifically, the improved play of halfback LeSean McCoy and quarterback Bill Stull. ‘ ‘ ‘ In Pitt’s last three games, McCoy is averaging 149 rushing yards and has five touchdowns over that span, hitting the holes the line is creating for him. ‘ ‘ ‘ Meanwhile, Stull has looked progressively more efficient and comfortable in the offense every game. Stull threw for 255 yards on only 15 completions in last week’s 42-21 trouncing of Navy. ‘ ‘ ‘ On the defensive side of the ball, senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop has been a stalwart in the middle of the field all season and is garnering critical acclaim for his success. But Wannstedt is fully aware that Rutgers has plenty of veteran leaders of its own who know how to win. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I think with their experience, it’s surprising that they only have two wins,’ said Wannstedt. ‘It’s also what makes [Saturday] such a dangerous and important game.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Along with quarterback Mike Teel, halfback Kordell Young and receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood also lead the Rutgers offense. ‘ ‘ ‘ Young has been injured much of this season with knee problems but has gotten the majority of the team’s carries in its last two games. He is trying to fill the void left by workhorse Ray Rice, who declared for the NFL Draft after his junior season last year. ‘ ‘ ‘ Britt has been a bright spot all season, amassing 46 receptions for 571 yards in only six games. Underwood, a first team All-Big East selection last season, has been struggling to duplicate his strong statistics from a season ago, but Wannstedt is fully aware of the threat that he and Britt provide. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Britt and Underwood are as talented as we’ll see all year long,’ said Wannstedt. ‘We’re talking about both of those guys playing on Sunday at the next level.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ While the renewed midseason buzz surrounding the Panthers is nice, Wannstedt knows there are still a lot of games yet to play and that they can’t afford to overlook anyone. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘It’s nice for the University,’ said Wannstedt. ‘[But] they don’t hand any trophies out in October.’