WVU-Pitt Rivalry Is As Unpredictable As Ever

MORGANTOWN – No one has scored as many as 20 points in any of the last three WVU-Pitt games and the 2010 edition looks like it might lead to a fourth straight low-scoring Backyard Brawl.

”The minute you say that,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said, ”it’s a 35-36 game.”

Well, he’s got a point. This rivalry has become as unpredictable as any. Lately, the favored team has consistently lost, and twice in the last three seasons, an unranked team has beaten a Top-10 team. The other time, West Virginia was ranked 25th and lost to the vote-receiving Panthers.

”I think it will be a hard-hitting, physical football game – that’s what I truly anticipate – because of the style of ball that we both play,” West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. ”We both play aggressive defense and ball-control types of offenses.”

Wannstedt agreed with that.

”If you look at the statistics of both teams, I think both defenses have played better than what the offenses have,” he said.

Pitt’s veteran coach, who is 2-3 against the Mountaineers, says he’s looking at one of West Virginia’s all-time best defenses and one that easily matches, or is better than, that of Utah and Miami, the two ranked teams that have beaten the Panthers this season.

”I think West Virginia has probably given up less big plays than the other defenses,” Wannstedt said. ”Coaches are keeping players very disciplined within the system. This is probably as physical a group as we’ve faced. Schematically, they know what they are responsible to do.”

The Mountaineers rank fourth nationally in total defense, scoring defense and rush defense and eighth in pass defense.

”This is one of those games where every play counts and every yard counts,” Wannstedt said.

It’s a game that features a pair of quarterbacks who have put up strikingly similar numbers in their first seasons as starters. Pitt’s Tino Sunseri has completed 172 of 258 passes for 2,034 yards and 14 touchdowns, while West Virginia’s Geno Smith is 187 of 293 for 2,003 yards and 19 touchdowns.

”Tino just makes plays and has had some really great outings, like our quarterback has had,” Stewart said. ”He’s also had some games where he hasn’t been as polished as they probably wanted him to be.”

Wannstedt said what he likes about Smith is that he always keeps his eyes upfield when he’s flushed from the pocket, never giving up on a play.

The leading rushers are Ray Graham for Pitt (89.3) and Noel Devine for West Virginia (82.8), but both players have cooled after fast starts. Graham was taking caries away from 2009 Big East Freshman of the Year Dion Lewis, but Lewis enjoyed his second 100-yard game of the season last week against South Florida. He’s averaging 73.4. Together, they’ll try do better than the Big East’s second-leading rusher, Bilal Powell, did last week against the WVU defense. Powell was limited to 4 yards on three carries, part of 30-carry, 26-yard rushing effort by the Cardinals. Their leading rusher was Chris Philpott, the punter who gained 21 yards on a fake punt.

”West Virginia has a ton of playmakers,” Wannstedt said. ”A lot of guys that can score points in a hurry. I think we do to. Who knows how it’s going to play out.”

Stewart figures this Brawl has a chance to be remembered.

”Backyard Brawl, add in the Big East with this race, it’s become an even bigger game,” Stewart said. ”Pitt’s a heckuva team. Going up there is going to be tough.”