Pitt won't overlook I-AA foe Gardner-Webb

It might be tempting to call today's matchup with Gardner-Webb a potential trap game for Pitt.

The Panthers (1-2) are coming off a resounding 35-17 upset win against then-No. 13 Virginia Tech, and the Division I-AA Runnin' Bulldogs (0-3) will be geared up for their biggest game of the season.

The Panthers promised there won't be any sort of letdown today at Heinz Field. After all, it was just three weeks ago that all the excitement of kicking off the Paul Chryst era was spoiled with a 31-17 loss to I-AA Youngstown State.

"The focus is on you and your team and how you can get better and you have to respect the game," Chryst said. "That's a pretty short memory if you haven't learned those lessons with this group this year."

Scouting report
  • Matchup: Pitt (1-2) vs. Gardner-Webb (0-3), 3:30 p.m. today, Heinz Field.
  • TV, Radio, Internet: ESPN3 KDKA-FM (93.7), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
  • Pitt: Coming off 35-17 win against then-No. 13 Virginia Tech last week, the team's first victory under head coach Paul Chryst. ... Total offensive yards (537) were the team's highest single-game output since 2000. ... After forcing no turnovers in first two games, forced four last week (three interceptions, one fumble recovery). ... RB Ray Graham, who spent the offseason recovering from ACL surgery, scored his first touchdown of the season against the Hokies. He finished with three scores (two rushing, one receiving).
  • Gardner-Webb: Lost to Samford 44-23 last week. ... Is 4-9 all time against current Division I-A teams. ... Receivers coach Ron Dickerson Sr. (father of head coach Ron Dickerson Jr.) was an assistant at Pitt from 1978-79 and his son, Dorin, was a Pitt tight end from '06-09.

    Hidden stat: Freshman RB Rushel Shell gained 157 yards on the ground against Virginia Tech, the most by any Pitt freshman since Dion Lewis had 159 in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl against North Carolina.

One of Chryst's most common talking points this season has been the need for consistency. He and players have said they plan to approach today's game against an 0-3 I-AA team the same way they prepared for last Saturday's game against the top-15 Hokies.

Senior receiver Mike Shanahan said the team definitely learned from the Youngstown State loss, but noted that he didn't think the loss came because Pitt overlooked the Penguins.

"I think it's going to be similar to Youngstown State in that we're going to approach them just like we would any other game," Shanahan said. "It proves in college football, anybody can beat anybody on any given day."

The Runnin' Bulldogs, though, will face more of an uphill climb than Youngstown State did in the season opener.

The Penguins rose to No. 3 in the NCAA's Division I-AA rankings this week, and are on the short list of teams that could seriously contend for a national championship. Gardner-Webb, meanwhile, has been outscored, 119-38, in its losses to Wofford, Richmond and Samford this season.

The Runnin' Bulldogs rank 107th in Division I-AA in scoring defense, allowing 39.7 points per game. The offense hasn't been much better, coming in at 104th with 12.7 points per game.

Still, Chryst said today's game, like any game, is more about his Panthers than the team lined up opposite them.

"Every time you go step between the lines, you've got to go play the game and make plays," Chryst said.

"Never am I overconcerned about the opponent as much as I am about our team. The guys will hear the same message this week they heard last week."


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published September 22, 2012 4:00 AM


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