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Pitt Vs. UConn: Keys to Victory

Pitt and Connecticut both come into Wednesday's game with similar profiles. Both own wins over Buffalo, USF, and an FCS team. Both came into the season with likely strong defenses and questionable offenses (although Pitt's offense had more clear answers than UConn's). And both are 3-4 and 1-1 in the Big East. A win over the other will likely propel that team to a bowl game while a loss makes the postseason seem nearly unreachable. Fans of both schools don't need to worry about their football teams for much longer, as basketball season is less than three weeks away and both have successful hoops programs.

If Pitt wants to reach .500 overall, here are some things they should look to do.

When Pitt has the ball:

1) Offensive consistency

I know it, you know it, heck a newborn baby probably can tell you that Pitt's offense has struggled badly in the past two games. Connecticut on defense is similar to Pitt. They'll get stops in the backfield. The offensive line had a bit of a change this week with the return of Lucas Nix. Can the line hold up against this Connecticut defense? If the line can manage some form of protection and blocking, it'll at least allow for Tino and the offense to establish some form of consistency. And in this game, offense will likely be at a minimum. I wouldn't be surprised if the first team to 20 points wins.

2) Get Ray his 25-30 carries

Pitt is entering a stretch where they'll face four defenses ranked in the top 15 against the run (the only outsider is West Virginia at No. 43) in their remaining five games. It'll be tough, but Pitt has to get Graham his carries. The Utah game showed us what likely will happen in the upcoming games should Pitt be forced to rely upon Tino's arm to lead them to victory. UConn is only allowing 89 yards/game on the ground and has given up a scarce four rushing TDs all season, but they've not yet faced a running back like Ray Graham. If Ray gets his carries and he can wear down this defense.

3) Control the pace of the game

I hate to keep going back to it, but the South Florida game showed us a few things. It proved that the offense, when working properly, is explosive and very difficult to stop. But it also showed us what happens when Pitt can control the tempo. South Florida's defense was gassed by midway through the 3rd quarter. In the past two games, Pitt was never able to control the pace of the game and the offense couldn't get going. If Pitt can move the ball at a fast pace, UConn will be exhausted by the end of the game even if they're able to keep things close in the first half.

When Connecticut has the ball

1) Hold the Huskies to FGs

West Virginia and South Florida have been able to keep the Huskies from scoring an offensive touchdown in conference play. Pitt has a better defense than the Bulls (and maybe even West Virginia after watching the Mountaineers collapse against Syracuse) and both held UConn's offense to nine points. While Pitt's offensive line has allowed many more sacks, UConn's is nearly just as bad at 114th in the nation in sacks allowed and tied for 102nd in tackles for loss allowed. Pitt has the talent to get in the backfield and the confidence after exploding for six sacks and 17 tackles for loss against Utah. They can do the same against UConn and hold the Huskies to FGs

2) Don't let UConn get comfortable

Let's be real - UConn is terrible on offense. They're bad enough that they might actually make the Pitt offense appear competent. In 17 red zone trips, they have eight touchdowns and only are scoring around 20 points a game. But even in a bad offense like Connecticut's, you let them get comfortable and they will move the ball. The defense needs to keep bringing pressure, force a few turnovers, block a punt/FG, anything to keep the UConn offense from moving the ball.

2) Win 3rd down

Connecticut is one of the worst in FBS at converting 3rd downs (30.5%) while Pitt is in the top 40 at 35.7% allowed. Looking at some of UConn's players at the key positions (QB, RB), you have to be underwhelmed. The rushing attack is averaging about three yards a carry, with leading rusher Lyles McCombs averaging around 4.0 yards/carry. QB Johnny McEntee is completing around 50% of his passes. Again, I can't say this enough, but UConn's offense is terrible. If the defense is as good as we think they are (which I think is pretty good), they should win the battle against this offense.

Key Matchup

Pitt offensive line vs. Connecticut defense

Pitt has at least shown some competence on the offensive side of the ball (they've scored offensive touchdowns in conference play). Again, assuming that the defense can control the Husky offense, which they should, the game will come down to whether the line can block enough to allow Tino to get good throws and Ray to get going. Do that and Pitt wins this game.