West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh Game Preview - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh Game Preview

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MORGANTOWN -

When you look at the Big East standings right now, you will see that more than half of the conference is tied for first place.  Without going through all of the scenarios that need to happen for WVU to get into the BCS, the Mountaineers just need to win out first and foremost and that begins this Friday in the 104th Backyard Brawl against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Recently when you think of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing, you also think of the Backyard Brawl.  This game has become a holiday tradition like many other things.  It is no secret that these two teams do not like each other and with conference realignment, this could be the last time they play each other for a while.

"It means a lot for the state of West Virginia, the loyal fans who come watch us every week, for the players who are from West Virginia and rival those Pennsylvania guys and for myself as the quarterback of this team," Geno Smith said.  "It's a rivalry and I want to go out there and get the win for this team."

"I sign with West Virginia one day and the next day I feel that way against [Pitt]," Defensive End Bruce Irvin said.  "It's a West Virginia thing and once you come here and find out the history about this game, it becomes a part of you and you get that feeling."

West Virginia enters the game with a 7-3 record (3-2 in the Big East, tied for first place).  The Mountaineers are coming off of a bye week, but had a very impressive road win over Cincinnati in their previous contest.

Pitt comes into Morgantown with a .500 record at 5-5 (3-2 in the Big East, tied for first place).  Like WVU, they are coming off of a bye week but were able to beat a tough Louisville team on the road in their previous game two weeks ago.  If they do not beat West Virginia this week, they have to beat Syracuse next week to become bowl eligible.

The Panther defense has been decent most of this season, allowing 23 points per game, good for 38th in the country.  It has been tough to run the ball against them all season, allowing 123 yards per game on the ground which is good for 26th in the nation.  Their pass defense has struggled however, giving up 233 yards per game which is 67th in the country.  These numbers would lean towards it being a good night for the WVU offense.

The Mountaineers passing offense still ranks among the top nationally at 7th best in the country with 3,621 yards total.  Once again, like it seems to be every week, this will be the key to the game for the WVU to have success.  If they can move the ball through the air and most importantly not turn the ball over, they will put up points on the Pitt defense.

Geno Smith threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns on just nine completions last season against Pitt on the way to a 35-10 victory at Heinz Field.

The Pitt offense has been ravaged by injuries this season.  Ray Graham, considered one of the best running backs in the country, is out for the year with a torn ACL.  Wide receiver Cameron Saddler, offensive tackle Chris Jacobson and offensive guard Matt Rotheram are also out for the season.

The Panthers are relying on quarterback Tino Sunseri a lot more with the injury to Graham.  Sunseri was benched in the game against Utah, but that may have lit a fire under the junior signal caller.  He has thrown for 833 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games since the loss to Utah, also throwing just one interception.

"He's been their best player on offense since [Graham] got hurt," Safety Eain Smith said.  "They've been disguising a little bit more trying to make you think they're going one way then go the other.  I think the defense just needs to do a good job reading the keys, doing their assignments and doing what they need to do.  I think we'll be fine."

Sunseri has also been a lot more prone to run the football since Graham got hurt.  He has ran for 135 yards in the last three games and scored three touchdowns.  Zach Brown has taken over at running back and has rushed for 296 yards on 67 carries this season with four touchdowns.

The Pitt offense as a whole has not been very good this season, averaging 26 points per game which is good for 69th nationally.  They also rank 80th in total yard per game with 372 yards.

The key to slowing down the Pitt offense for West Virginia is whether or not Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin can get pressure on Sunseri and for the linebackers to contain him from running free.  If they can do this, I think the Mountaineer secondary can cover te receivers long enough to prevent the Panthers from moving down the field.

West Virginia is currently on a two game winning streak against Pitt.  The Panthers hold the overall record in the series 39-61-3 and also holds the overall record in Morgantown 16-19-3.

The Backyard Brawl will be Friday at 7:00 pm and will be shown nationally on ESPN.

 

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