- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Over the past couple of years, Pittsburgh has shed a few monkeys off its back.
The Panthers finally beat West Virginia two years ago and now have a two-game Backyard Brawl win streak. They had their first winning season and bowl appearance under Dave Wannstedt last year. They've eliminated disappointing losses to teams like Navy and Bowling Green.
But one large simian remains on the Panthers' collective vertebrae: Rutgers.
Pitt has not beaten the Scarlet Knights under Dave Wannstedt, and the ugliest loss was last year's 54-34 beatdown at Heinz Field. So when the two teams meet again Friday night in Piscataway, N.J. (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), this is more than just another Big East game for the Panthers, and particularly their seniors.
"We can't stress watching film more or working harder for this one," quarterback Bill Stull told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Paul Zeise. "We just have to do things better. I don't want to say we need extra focus or say we weren't putting focus in the last games because that's not true, but we just have to find a way to get down and dirty this week.
"This is personal, I've yet to be on the winning side of the ball and I am really taking it personal this week as are all of our seniors this week."
Stull has reason to take this personally. Last year, he was carted off the field after suffering a neck injury, one of many quarterbacks that Rutgers knocked out of games during Big East play (all on legal hits, mind you). Stull wasn't the same the rest of the year.
Zeise reports that Wannstedt has used some motivational tools this week to get his team fired up. At a team meeting, he had all the seniors stand up, and then asked anyone who had beaten Rutgers to sit down. Video from the last four losses to the Scarlet Knights has been playing on a constant loop around the football complex, and a team manager came to practice dressed in a knight's suit of armor.
What's the reason for Rutgers' recent run of success against Pitt? Perhaps familiarity plays a role. Greg Schiano was an assistant to Wannstedt on the Chicago Bears' staff and knows Wannstedt's system well. The styles of the two teams aren't that different, though Schiano likes to bring a lot more blitzes than Wannstedt.
“I just think that they’ve made fewer mistakes than we have," Wannstedt said. "I think every game has taken on a little different twist. I think they’ve just played better than we have. That’s been the bottom line.”
Pitt's seniors would like to change that bottom line on Friday. And like they say in bad action movies, this time, it's personal.