7:00 PM ET, November 27, 2009
7:00 PM ET, November 27, 2009
Pittsburgh's shocking upset of West Virginia in Morgantown two years ago was a positive end to an otherwise disappointing season.
There have been few low points for the Panthers since.
With its biggest game of the season still looming, eighth-ranked Pittsburgh will try to avoid looking too far ahead when it visits West Virginia on Friday night in the 102nd meeting of the teams' intense rivalry.
Pittsburgh (9-1, 5-0 Big East) will take on No. 5 Cincinnati on Dec. 5 in a game that will likely determine the conference champion, but for now, the Panthers' attention is focused on their annual showdown with the Mountaineers -- a game often referred to as the "Backyard Brawl."
Pitt has won the last two meetings with West Virginia (7-3, 3-2), including a 13-9 victory in Morgantown in 2007, which kept the then-No. 2 Mountaineers from playing for the national title.
"It's definitely a fun game to play," Pitt defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard said. "It's a loud stadium. The fans hate you. They're yelling at you. It's really something down there. That really gets your emotions going and gets you ready to play."
Coach Dave Wannstedt acknowledges the Panthers' 2007 win over the Mountaineers as a turning point for his program. Pittsburgh had come into that game 4-7. In the two years since, the Panthers have gone 18-5, and they have been a consistent presence in the Top 25 this season.
West Virginia, meanwhile, saw coach Rich Rodriguez leave two weeks after that upset defeat. The Mountaineers went 9-4 under Bill Stewart last season and have spent only two weeks in the rankings this season.
This is the first time since 2003 that the teams have met with the Panthers in the Top 25 and the Mountaineers unranked.
"I think that win (in Morgantown) ... it gave us life," Wannstedt said. "I think it helped our program in several areas that today we look back on and probably it was the turning point since I've been here, without a doubt."
Wannstedt and the Panthers are coming off their bye week following a 27-22 victory over Notre Dame on Nov. 14.
While Dion Lewis wasn't part of the last two wins over the Mountaineers, he figures to be a big factor Friday. The freshman running back leads the Big East with 129.1 rushing yards per game. He ran for 152 yards and one touchdown against the Irish, with his score giving Pitt a 27-9 lead with 12:44 remaining. Lewis needs only 38 more yards to surpass Pitt's LeSean McCoy for the Big East's freshman rushing mark.
With emotions so high, the Panthers will try to avoid letting another lead nearly slip away as they did against the Irish, who had a chance to take the lead on their final possession before quarterback Jimmy Clausen fumbled with just over two minutes remaining.
West Virginia failed in a comeback attempt of its own in a 24-21 loss to Cincinnati on Nov. 13. The Mountaineers scored on Jarrett Brown's 3-yard touchdown pass to Bradley Starks with 39 seconds remaining, but they were out of timeouts when the Bearcats recovered the onside kick.
"Every loss hurts, but this is a very tough loss," fullback Ryan Clarke said. "This kind of loss really hits you."
Leading rusher Noel Devine played in that game despite injuring his ankle in the previous contest. He finished with 88 yards but was sidelined while getting his ankle taped on a decisive drive in the final six minutes. West Virginia turned the ball over on downs at Cincinnati's 24-yard line.
Friday is West Virginia's final home game. It's trying to go undefeated in Morgantown for the first time since 1993.
"It's the best way to go about this," Brown said. "It's my last home game. Against Pitt. Backyard Brawl."
Two years ago in Morgantown, Pitt upset West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl, knocking the Mountaineers out of the BCS title game. Since then, the Panthers are 18-5 and have a shot at the Big East title next week vs. Cincinnati. Friday is West Virginia's final home game. It's trying to go undefeated at home for the first time since 1993.
West Virginia will stay close but Pittsburgh's offensive balance will be the difference in the Backyard Brawl.
|Avg Points Allowed||17.7||20.7|