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Pitt Vs. South Florida: Cardiac Hill Game Preview

These are the times I wish I had 3D.

It hardly seems fair that Pitt's monster game against South Florida is on a short week. Sure, playing on Thursday night has its advantages - namely the entire nation (well, at least the sports fans) will have their eyes on the game. But it seems like we've hardly had a chance to catch our breath with the Notre Dame game in recent memory.

Make no mistake, though - this is clearly Pitt's biggest game of the season and this one could end up being an elimination game of sorts. A loss, due to the tiebreaker, means someone is essentially starting off 1 1/2 games back in conference play.

USF head coach is right when he says there's more to the short week than just recuperating from the past weekend's games:

"It's not only just having a condensed, shortened week, but it's trying to work it around all the class schedules that we have for Monday," Holtz told South Florida's official website.

He added:

"There's a big emphasis for the players to get over here, to spend a little bit extra time watching film and doing what you need to do because what you're normally putting into a seven-day routine we've got to wedge into not only five days, but with a travel day almost four," Holtz said. "It's going to make it difficult."

Looking at the Bulls, as it did last year, it's going to come down to stopping B.J. Daniels. but unlike past years, Daniels is now more than a quarterback with potential - he's actually cashed some of that in and is maybe the best quarterback in the conference with eight touchdowns to only one interception.

Todd Graham knows stopping him is the key:

"The key is to execute the system. You need to focus a little more on containment. The other thing is don't get cautious. We need to get on Daniels quick and fast. We need to impact him. The way to achieve that goal is by putting pressure on him. We have to make sure we have good solid pass rush lanes and we don't let him out in the perimeter to run around."

I was cautiously optimistic when I heard defensive coordinator Keith Patterson on 93.7 FM The Fan Tuesday morning talk about how there are systems in check where, and I'm paraphrasing here, if the defenders do what they're supposed to, that they should have someone accounting for Daniels at all times. Whether that happens is a completely different ball of wax, but the good thing is that the defense doesn't sound so rigid that they either have a spy on him or they don't.

Another guy to watch is running back Darrell Scott. Scott has 348 yards through four games so far this season. Truthfully, I think Pitt has little trouble with him. He's having a good season so far, but has built up his numbers against mediocre talent. He was completely shut down on the road at Notre Dame picking up only 33 yards on 12 carries. As we saw last week with Jonas Gray breaking a 79-yard touchdown, anything's possible. But I think Pitt should be able to contain Scott assuming they don't miss tackles.

Meanwhile, about those two losses. Pitt's moving on:

"It's real easy for us to move on, in my opinion," Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham said. "This is the Big East. We've got the No. 14 team, the 16th team in the country coming in here in South Florida, who's undefeated. … We had the best practice we've had all year [Monday]. So our guys are focused and excited."

I'd agree with that - I don't see how Pitt can help getting up for a ranked undefeated team on a Thursday night home game.

Also not sure if this will help or hurt Pitt, but Todd Graham and Skip Holtz are also familiar with each other back from their C-USA days.

So how's this one going to shape out? Apparently, the fine fellows out in Vegas have placed Pitt (as of now) 2 1/2-point underdogs. That probably sounds about right to me. South Florida beat the one team on the road that Pitt couldn't beat at home and the Bulls are undefeated. Tough to pick against them, right?

Well, I actually am.

After going against Pitt in the past two games, I think the Panthers have a good shot at pulling this one out. Despite the two disappointing losses, I really believe Pitt has gotten better. The defense showed signs of life last game and if Pitt can keep this one from turning into a shootout, I think they have a shot to win. Plus, I've got to think Todd Graham has something up his sleeve. He's a smart chap and I think he's saved a couple of trick plays for this one.

At home, I'll call a 24-20 win.