It's a short week so I'm offering a short apology in advance. This isn't going to be an in-depth preview with lots of links. But more than the fact that we're only a day away, I've really got no idea what to expect in this one.
I know, I get it - I said the exact same thing last week. Well, fact is this team is as enigmatic as maybe I've ever seen. Even though it was only one game, I keep trying to reconcile the fact that Pitt looked so good in that game and so bad against Utah and Rutgers. Sure, the score in the Utes game looked respectable, but we all know that was because of two special teams TDs. The Panthers' offense was shut out and there's no getting around the fact that they were completely shut down.
That said, what can we look for in this game?
Well, the game's at home but how much of a home field advantage Pitt will have is up in the air. If you thought the attendance for South Florida was underwhelming, just wait till Wednesday rolls around. That USF game was at least on a Thursday and against a Top 25 team. Then, throw in the mildly creative but largely idiotic 'Occupy Heinz Field' event (which, by the way, has to have taken a hit with a certain game in Syracuse last weekend) , and who knows what kind of Pitt crowd there will be.
UConn is similar to Pitt in that both teams feature defenses playing better than the offenses. Pitt's offense has done a bit more than UConn's but the Huskies' defense has been superior so far. Part of that has to do with competition though - while Pitt's dealt with Iowa, Notre Dame, and Utah, the Huskies have gotten fat off of teams like Iowa State, Vanderbilt, and Western Michigan. For what it's worth, both teams defeated Buffalo and South Florida, but Pitt beat both by a bigger margin.
One thing that concerns me is UConn's passing game. No, it's not unstoppable, but Pitt has allowed some very mediocre QBs to have good games. I don't expect that Johnny McEntee will have a great game, but he's capable of doing enough to win. The reason for concern is because UConn has been able to run the ball capably. It's much easier to stop a one-dimensional team, but with freshman Lyle McCombs playing well (700+ yards on the season, which ranks in the top 30 in the nation), Pitt will need to at least pay attention to the threat of a run and can't drop seven or eight back in coverage every time.
Other than the obligatory 20-30 carries Ray Graham needs to get in this game, maybe even more than that, Pitt needs to establish the short pass. They tried to go downfield (on a windy day, no less) and we all saw how that worked. Screens to guys like Graham and Devin Street and short slant patterns should be plentiful in this one. Sure, Pitt needs to take some shots farther down the field to keep the defense honest, but they should be extremely limited - especially early on while Tino Sunseri tries to get into a rhythm.
Both teams' backs are against the wall and we're about to find out a lot about Pitt. If they lose this game, they can almost assuredly kiss any Big East title chances (or maybe even any bowl hopes) good-bye.
Call me crazy, but I'm not totally confident in this game. Pitt not only has looked downright awful at times, but UConn has also played them tough and has won three of the past five times (including last year). I hate picking this game, but with it at home (despite how little the home field advantage may be), I'll give Pitt a slight advantage. Pitt 20, UConn 13