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Pitt Vs. USF: Keys To The Game

It's the Big East opener for both teams and of the 2011 season. This game will go a long way in determining who, besides West Virginia, will be fighting for the Big East title.

When Pitt has the ball:

1) Get the run game established

We saw what happens when Ray Graham doesn't get going in the run game. Both times it's happened have resulted in Pitt losses. There have been bigger reasons why Pitt lost both games obviously, but the running game was another reason. South Florida has an even better rush defense than Notre Dame (although, and this will be repeated a lot in this post, it may be as a result of playing teams such as Ball State, Florida A&M, and UTEP). Graham needs to get back on track this game if Pitt still wants to contend for a BCS bowl.

2) Hold on to the ball

South Florida has forced 13 turnovers in four games, including five against Notre Dame. Sunseri did a good job not throwing any picks last week. He has to have a similar game this week (but with more points of course).

3) Get the offense moving

Specifically, the passing attack. Remember, South Florida allowed over 500 yards of offense to Notre Dame (a team that, if you take out Gray's long touchdown run, Pitt held to just over 300 yards of offense). The Bulls allowed almost 400 yards through the air against the Irish. Can Pitt match that? No, but there's no reason for Pitt to repeat last week's performance.

When USF has the ball:

1) Slow the run game

South Florida has rushed for over 220 yards a game in the first four weeks (which, again, may be due to the opposition), but in their one game against a real opponent (Notre Dame), they only managed 120 and were held to 3.0 yards per carry. Other than that long TD run, Pitt did a fairly decent job of holding the Irish running game at bay. They'll have to do the same against B.J. Daniels, who is capable of breaking big runs.

2) Keep B.J. Daniels in the backfield

I'm still not sold on B.J. Daniels as a passer. In his one game against a real opponent, he only threw for 128 yards and one touchdown. But he can run. Pitt has to make sure he doesn't bust loose for big gains or it will be a long day for the defense.

3) Be strong in the red zone

South Florida, despite scoring 45 points a game, actually has a worse red zone offense than Pitt ... and they only score touchdowns on 55% of those drives. However, Pitt has allowed nine scores in the red zone - eight of them touchdowns. The defense has to hold the Bulls to field goals or even force turnovers if possible.

Key matchup:

Pitt offensive line vs. USF defensive line

As it often does, a trench battle will decide the game. Pitt's offensive line woes have been well documented through the first four games of the season. South Florida, on the other hand, has found themselves getting in the backfield often, recording around three sacks a game and just under nine tackles for loss. Pitt needs to get more consistency on offense and it won't have that if South Florida is stopping Ray Graham for a loss or sacking Tino. If Pitt can win the line battle (which I have no confidence that they will) or even cut down on the number of sacks allowed, it will go a long way.