Pregame: Pittsburgh-West Virginia
November, 25, 2011
By Andrea Adelson | ESPN.com
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- It is a beautiful night for football, with clear skies and mild temperatures for the 104th edition of the Backyard Brawl between Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
Here are a few keys for each team.
1. Run baby, run. Plenty on this in the pregame video, but the Panthers want to have some balance to help Tino Sunseri. They slowed down the tempo just a touch in their last win against Louisville, and could try to do that again against the Mountaineers, especially if it means keeping West Virginia off the field. Since the 2000 season, Pittsburgh is 41-13 when it has a 100-yard rusher.
2. Pressure. Pitt has gotten much better on the defensive front, and a big reason has been the development of sophomore defensive end Aaron Donald, who leads the Big East with nine sacks. The key to any game plan against the Mountaineers is to pressure quarterback Geno Smith. Since 2000, only three Pitt players have 10 or more sacks in a season.
3. Convert in the red zone. Pitt has been excellent in the red zone this season, ranking first in the Big East and tied for seventh nationally in red zone efficiency. Pitt has converted 32 of 35 trips inside the 20 this year -- with 26 touchdowns. The three failed attempts were missed field goals.
1. Put the game in the hands of Tino Sunseri. West Virginia knows the Panthers might want to establish the run game, and West Virginia would love nothing more than for Sunseri to beat him. He has played better of late, but Sunseri also has a tendency to make way too many mistakes and take sacks he shouldn't take.
2. Convert third downs. West Virginia ranks No. 2 in the Big East in third-down conversions (42 percent). In five of 10 games, the Mountaineers have converted on third downs 45 percent of the time or better. Pitt has been great on defense on third down, leading the Big East and ranking 10th nationally in third-down efficiency defense (32 percent). The Mountaineers have to win the third down battle to have a great shot at winning.
3. Win up front. West Virginia has struggled getting pressure on the passer this season, but this could be the perfect opportunity to change that. Pitt has struggled big time on the offensive line this season, so Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller could have a big game.