Final River City Rivalry Is A Shot At Redemption

Last year, Cincinnati left Heinz Field with a victory (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Losing to an FCS team at home ain't good. Having only five days to correct the mistakes and play a conference game on the road isn't ideal either. But those are the cards on the table for Pitt, who are already in Cincinnati preparing for tonight's game against the Bearcats.

Theoretically, Cincy is one of the "favorites" for the Big East title, meaning that they're at least in the top half of the league and could be involved in a four-team tie at the end of the year. Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux is a frontrunner for the prestigious All-Name Team, but will have to improve as a quarterback:

Junior Munchie Legaux will start at quarterback for the Bearcats. Legaux filled in last year and started five games for Cincinnati when Zach Collaros was injured. While he was largely inconsistent, he did show flashes of his dual-threat ability.

Legaux completed just 47.4 percent of his passes last season, with five touchdowns and four interceptions, but also rushed for 185 yards on 41 carries.

"[He's] athletic and, once again, I think the schemes fit the guys that they have," Chryst said.

(More after the jump)

So it's likely the last game of the River City Rivalry. I'm sure Cincinnati fans are as broken up about this as I am. Bill Koch tells us who's to blame for the much-mocked River City Trophy (former UC AD Bob Goin) and that continuing this storied tradition may not be at the top of anyone's radar:

"I don’t know that that would be at the top of our radar screen but I would never shut the door on it," [Cincy AD Whit] Babcock said, "whether it was basketball, football or any of our sports. I think that’s a good rivalry but we have not engaged in any conversations about that."

One day, decades from now, Pitt will meet Cincinnati in an out of conference game and someone will find a picture of the River City Trophy and post it on the future equivalent of blogs to mock us. Rightfully so. What a bad, bad trophy.

But the actually rivalry hasn't been too bad. Pitt is up four games to three since the Bearcats joined the Big East, with Cincinnati winning three of the last four. Of course, that includes the biggest game of the series - the 2009 de facto Big East championship at Heinz Field, but let's not talk about that. Too soon.

But shockingly, despite all of this history and tradition, tickets are still available for tonight's game in a 35,000 stadium. Pitt is rightfully mocked for its attendance, but that's pretty bad.

The biggest question for Pitt will be whether a loss to an FCS team at home was a blip on the radar or a sign of something larger. Stewart Mandal has Pitt squarely on his panic meter, rightfully so. Pitt's defense didn't give us much to feel confident about, but perhaps some of that is inexperience and suspensions:

More than half the defensive players started their first college game, including two linebackers, Nicholas Grigsby and Eric Williams. Linemen Bryan Murphy, Khaynin Mosely-Smith and Jack Lippert and cornerback Lafayette Pitts also made their starting debuts.

"We have a lot of first-time starters out there," senior safety Andrew Taglianetti said. "They're getting their feet wet a little bit."

Chryst is hopeful that all his players, but especially the younger ones, will play better Thursday night against Cincinnati.

But for what it's worth, according to Chryst, they're using the loss as motivation:

"I love right now where this group is at. They've had the right response. They certainly weren't happy with what happened, but they're not in the tank, either. They weren't hanging their heads, and I think they saw the film and there's a little bit of 'we can and will do anything' to change it.

"I think they bounce back pretty quick."

A quick week has me worried, no matter what the players may say. There were a lot of issues on the defense against what should have been inferior opposition, but the offense wasn't too hot either, failing to take advantage of YSU's freshmen corners with a safety in the box:

Sunseri said much of the passing game's success evolved because Youngstown State sold out to stop running backs Ray Graham and Isaac Bennett. Given Graham's credentials, Sunseri said it will be up to the passing game to come through in many games this season, including Thursday at Cincinnati, because other teams will take a similar approach.

"They came out and understood they needed to stop the run," Sunseri said of Youngstown State. "Whenever you have [Graham] in the backfield, that's the guy you have to concentrate on. If they do that, you have to be able to go through the air and make plays. That's what we have to be able to do. We have to be able to be one of those offenses that can either pass or run, dictating what the defense does. A lot of people think that the defense dictates what the offense does. The offense should be able to dictate what the defense does. We want to attack and cover all areas."

And hey, the suspended players will return tonight, meaning that Tyrone Ezell, Shane Hale, Rushel Shell and Ronald Jones could all see time tonight. It also seems that TJ Clemmings may be back from his injury. Hopefully, the return of Ezell, Hale and Clemmings gives the defense the boost it clearly needs.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt football and basketball.

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