Wednesday, September 1, 2010
A closer look at Utah-Pitt
By Andrea Adelson and Brian Bennett
Thursday night's showdown between Pittsburgh and Utah features two teams with conference title and BCS aspirations, plus some good ol' bragging rights between the Big East and the Mountain West conferences.
For a closer look at this game, national blogger Andrea Adelson and Big East blogger Brian Bennett break down each team's strengths and weaknesses:
Strengths: The offense is a definite strength with eight starters returning, including quarterback Jordan Wynn. The sophomore started the final five games of last season and had a breakout performance in the Poinsettia Bowl against California, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdown passes. He is now completely comfortable in the spread system Utah runs, and has been given the ability to call audibles this season as well.
First-team All-Mountain West Conference running back Eddie Wide returns and so does Matt Asiata -- the two combined for -- 1,399 yards last season and 16 touchdowns. Watch for wide receiver Jereme Brooks to have a breakout season.
Weaknesses: Utah lost its top four tacklers from 2009 and has to replace seven starters on defense, including all three at linebacker and three in the secondary. The projected starter at rover, JJ Williams, is out with a foot injury, leaving Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker to start alongside converted quarterback Chad Manis. Tackle Koa Misi is also gone, along with his 4.5 sacks. But Utah does have depth on the defensive line, and leading sackmaster Sealver Siliga is back and expected to anchor the front.
Strengths: Start with the running game, as Dion Lewis returns after his phenomenal, 1,799-yard freshman season. When the Panthers aren't handing off to Lewis or terrific backup tailback Ray Graham, they're likely throwing the ball deep to Jon Baldwin, a 6-foot-5 athletic freak who is a potential NFL first-rounder next spring.
On defense, Pitt has two of the best defensive ends anywhere in seniors Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus. The Panthers don't need to blitz much because of the pressure their defensive front generates.
Weaknesses: Though strong on the edges, Pitt's offensive line is breaking in three new starters on the offensive line, including a former walk-on at center (Alex Karabin) and a thoroughly untested right guard (Greg Gaskins). That could mean less running room for Lewis and less time in the pocket for new starting quarterback Tino Sunseri. Coaches have confidence in Sunseri, but he's still playing his first important snaps in a tough road environment.
The Panthers also showed some vulnerability in pass coverage last year, and they will be lining up with two new starting cornerbacks.