Pitt and UConn will square off on Wednesday night in what could be a virtual elimination game of sorts. Both teams are 3-4 and 1-1 in the Big East, having both beaten South Florida. Another loss would not only hurt in terms of reaching a bowl game, but it could virtually eliminate the loser from winning the conference's BCS berth.
With neither offense playing particularly well, this figures to be a defensive struggle. Both defenses have done a good job for the most part this season and the key for Pitt will be moving the ball down the field in its new offense under Todd Graham. The Panthers have done that at times (most recently, in the game against South Florida a few weeks ago), but haven't played well offensively in their last two losses against Rutgers and Utah. That homecoming contest against the Utes was particularly bad as the offense failed to tally a single point.
Pitt fans have grown accustomed to learning that quarterback play is the key to the offense this season, but head coach Todd Graham could help the team by giving the ball to running back Ray Graham early and often. Graham was repeatedly stopped against Utah and as a result, only received a meager 12 carries. If UConn sells out to stop the run (which is expected), the coach needs to be creative in finding other ways to get the ball to Ray. One way to do that is to use him on screen passes and short routes - something we've seen earlier this year, but not so much in the Utah game.
Going back to that aforementioned quarterback play, Todd Graham recently said it's essentially 'Tino or bust.' That should hopefully instill a bit of confidence in Sunseri now that he knows he doesn't need to look over his shoulder worrying about when a backup might come in. How much that really helps is anybody's guess, but it should be at least a minor positive to the team.
While the Huskies' offense hasn't been any better (in actuality, it's been slightly worse), Pitt will need to keep them honest. The passing attack is led by quarterback Johnny McEntee. McEntee hasn't been very good, but he is serviceable and capable of managing a game. The team also has a quality running back in freshman Lyle McCombs. He's not Ray Graham, but he has totaled just over 700 yards and ranks 28th in the nation in total rushing. Pitt's defense can't merely look to hold UConn at bay - with the way the offense has played, the Panthers should be looking to force a turnover or two. Pitt may not muster much offensively and it might be up to the defense to put some points on the board.
I don't expect another special teams showing like the team had against Utah when they returned a kickoff for a touchdown and also scored a touchdown on a blocked kick. But if Pitt is able to play well in that area and come up with a key play, that could be the difference in this game.
The contest will be Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN.