NCF Nation: 2011 Compass bowl 3 keys

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.

Compass Bowl keys for Kentucky

January, 7, 2011
Here are three keys for Kentucky in its BBVA Compass Bowl matchup Saturday against Pittsburgh:

1. Shut down the running game: Pittsburgh and Dion Lewis put up impressive numbers in the running game last season, but it’s been a struggle for much of this season. The Panthers were 5-0 when rushing for 150 yards, so the last thing the Wildcats want to do is allow Pitt to establish itself on the ground and dictate the flow of the game by running the football.

2. Get Newton off to a good start: Look for the Wildcats to put replacement quarterback Morgan Newton in an early position to make some easier throws and generate a little confidence. It’s been a while since he’s been in this situation. So having some success early will probably be even more important. And that confidence thing isn’t confined to just him. His teammates also need a reason to believe in him and rally around him.

3. Get the ball to Cobb: The best thing Newton will have going for him is Randall Cobb, who may see more than a few snaps at quarterback in the Wildcat package. Cobb’s been off for more than a month and is rested, so there’s no such thing as wearing him out at this point. He ought to get 15 touches at a minimum and maybe even 20. Don’t be surprised if the Wildcats have several new plays in place to get him the ball. Newton’s probably not going to be as efficient as Hartline throwing the ball, which means Kentucky may have to work harder at making sure Cobb gets his touches.