So it's the day before the Rutgers game. All week, there's been talk about important topics in the media...the play of Rutgers freshman Tom Savage, Pitt running back Dion Lewis...Sweet Caroline.
Seriously, though. My feelings have been already discussed about this dopey song. But I don't know how anyone could attribute this song to Pitt's comeback win this past weekend. Sure, the fans may enjoy it. But I have a hard time believing Pitt's defense was even slightly motivated to play better because of it. And if they were, then there's a serious coaching issue. Over/under on the number of games Pitt plays until they bring Neil in to sing it live? I'll go with ten, saying it will happen sometime next year.
I wouldn't place too much stock in Rutgers' rushing defense since the only time they've played a quality team (Cincinnati), they gave up 160+ yards. Pitt also did just fine against another good defense last week in UCONN. If the flow of the game doesn't dictate that Pitt needs to throw every down to catch up, I would expect the running game to do well as they have all season. I will say this though - I don't think Lewis and Graham will run absolutely roughshod as they have most of this season.
Pitt's passing game could also be facing the most pressure they've faced all season. This is where more of my concern lies. Stull has been able to play the role of an actual quarterback this year and not just a game manager. But with the different defensive looks Rutgers is sure to provide, I'd quite honestly take a lesser, but mistake-free game from him. The offensive line is really going to have to be on their game as well as the running backs/fullbacks that will need to pick up rushers in passing situations where they're staying at home.
Oh, and if there wasn't enough to worry about, there's that embarrassing game from last year where the secondary was torched. Yes, Rutgers is playing with a freshman quarterback. But he looks to be a good one and is yet to throw an interception all year. That, friends, is how you win games - mistake-free football.
Make no mistake, though. Even though the stories this week have understandably focused on what Rutgers can do, Pitt can do a few things of its own. For starters, Dion Lewis is only 8 yards away from being the top rusher in all of college football. Jonathan Baldwin, if he gets the chance, can play like one of the top wide receivers in the country. And Bill Stull has one of the top five passer ratings in the country. Oh yeah, the defense (at least the front four and linebackers) can play pretty well, too. Pitt's keys to win are simple if you ask me:
1. Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line. If they block well as they have all season, and Bill Stull has time, his mistakes have been limited. And if they force Rutgers to respect the pass, the running game will have an honest chance.
2. Get Baldwin the ball. This goes with #1. Again, as last week, I think Pitt needs to take its shots deep if only for the fact that Baldwin and Dickerson have shown they can come up with the ball more times than not if the throw is accurate.
3. Get Rutgers QB Tom Savage to make bad plays. This may seem difficult because he's been so poised thus far. But if Pitt can get a turnover or two, it will go a long way.
4. Keep the defense off of the field. The defense has looked tired at points when Pitt's offense has stalled this season. Pitt needs to sustain drives (even if they don't score) and get the defense some rest.
5. Score touchdowns, not field goals. No TDs on four trips inside the ten as they had last week is not good enough. Yes, I know the last drive was more about running out the clock, but you get the point. You've got to punch it in and capitalize.
Now, I really don't want to make a prediction here...mostly for the fact that I hate picking against Pitt and I think there's a strong chance they could lose this game if they turn the ball over. But I'm also encouraged by the fact that Pitt has already experienced a Friday night game on the road this year.
Brian Bennett and ESPN.com calls for a narrow Pitt win, so I will too. I got Pitt's total of 24 points right last weekend - here's the call:
Pitt 27 - Rutgers 20