Three keys for Pittsburgh in Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl against Kentucky:
1. Come together, right now: Maybe that Beatles tune should be playing on the team bus ride to Birmingham's Legion Field. Pitt has been through an extraordinarily odd time the past month. Occasionally, that can help a team rally together -- see Ohio State's performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl after the controversial suspensions of five players. Of course, the Buckeyes were 11-1 and playing in a BCS game; Pitt is coming off a vastly disappointing 7-5 season and playing in a underwhelming bowl in what will likely have a catatonic atmosphere in the stands. But the Panthers need to use the off-the-field problems as an us-against-the-world mentality, because if they play up to their capability they can still win this game. And they can bring some respect back to a program that has suffered a national embarrassment.
2. Point the Compass south: As in, downhill running with Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. (A lame play off the bowl's name, but I bet most of you have no idea what the sponsor company does. It's a bank.). Kentucky couldn't win many big SEC games this year because of its inability to stop the run. Pitt's running game with Dion Lewis and Ray Graham is still its strength, especially as the offensive line improved during the course of the season. The Wildcats are far better against the pass, so the Panthers' game plan should be to try and stuff it down their throats as much as possible.
3. Get pressure on Morgan Newton, but contain him: Newton, a sophomore, will make his first start of the season at quarterback after Kentucky suspended senior Mike Hartline. He played some last year but still should have some rust. That rust could create holes in the Wildcats offense if Pitt can force him to make bad decisions. The bad news is that Big East defensive player of the year Jabaal Sheard and tackle Myles Caragein are out of this game with injuries. So guys like Brandon Lindsey and Chas Alecxih need to have big games. Newton is also more mobile than Hartline, so the Panthers must be sure not to break contain when they rush him. Superstar Randall Cobb will likely be heavily involved in the game plan and figures to line up in the Wildcat formation a lot (though when your mascot is the Wildcats, aren't they all Wildcat formations?). He'll get his yards, but Pitt can still control things by making Newton's day miserable.