Two weeks ago, after Pitt's 45-35 loss against Louisville, coach Paul Chryst said his team was "at a crossroads." Even after the 20-6 victory against Buffalo last week, the Panthers still seem to be at that metaphorical intersection.
The game today against Temple (3-3, 2-1 Big East) could go a long way in determining the long-term success of this Pitt team. A win would get the Panthers (3-4, 0-3 Big East) to .500 and put them firmly back in contention for bowl eligibility. A loss would make that road to six wins an uphill battle.
"Our main thing is just to get past Temple, get this win," running back Ray Graham said. "We can't look forward now because we're in this hole, kind of. We're 3-4, we need to get to that [.500] area. We just need to get past Temple and we can move forward from there."
History also indicates this could be a swing game for the Panthers. The previous time Pitt started 0-3 in the Big East was 2001. That team bounced back and won its final six games, capped by a Tangerine Bowl victory. The previous time Pitt started Big East play 0-4, though, was '98, when the Panthers finished the season 0-7 in conference play.
"If we win a couple of these tough games, it could change the season," tight end Hubie Graham said.
Chryst, though, said he doesn't pay much attention to any big-picture discussion during the day-in, day-out grind of the season.
"I think a lot about the task at hand, the day at hand and I think it's a pretty good world to live in when you live it that way," Chryst said.
"All that stuff really just clouds your vision, I think. None of that happens if you don't take care of the day. Our days that are measured are Saturdays."
Today, Pitt will contend with a Temple team that has surprised some in its first season back in the Big East. The Owls essentially were kicked out of the conference in '04, but started this year 2-0 in league play. They put a scare into Rutgers last week, leading, 10-0, at halftime before falling, 35-10.
The Owls use a run-heavy offense with several different options, including quarterback Chris Coyer. They are led by running back Montel Harris, a transfer from Boston College. In Temple's three Big East games, Harris has averaged 118.7 rushing yards per game.
"I think everyone's got to do their jobs and be accountable," Chryst said. "It's a team defense against a rushing attack like this. I think it's truly a team effort, and that's what we've got to do."
Graham said Chryst's biggest message to the team was to eliminate mistakes that have plagued the Panthers this season. Pitt should just focus on playing Temple Saturday, as opposed to having to overcome its own errors as well.
"When we play just one team, and that's the opponent, we play some good ball," Graham said. "We're just looking at it as an opportunity and we're going out there and working hard."
NOTES -- Chryst said linebacker Manny Williams will miss the game Saturday with an unspecified knee ligament injury. Williams did not play last week against Buffalo. ... Graham and fullback Mark Giubilato, who both missed the Buffalo game, practiced this week and are expected to play.
Sam Werner: email@example.com or on Twitter @SWernerPG.