Pitt's game against Connecticut tonight has serious bowl implications for the Panthers, but the Huskies' Rentschler Field wasn't a welcoming venue the last time the Panthers (4-5, 1-3 Big East) played a game with similar stakes there.
Two years ago, Pitt went into a Thursday night game against the Huskies with their BCS hopes very much alive. Dave Wannstedt's squad had started 3-0 in the Big East and had a two-game lead over the rest of the conference.
- Game: Pitt (4-5, 1-3 Big East) at Connecticut (3-6, 0-4)
- When: 8 p.m.
- Where: East Hartford, Conn.
- TV: ESPN 2.
Pitt took a 21-13 lead on a 5-yard Ray Graham touchdown run late in the third quarter, but a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown sparked a 17-0 Connecticut run, and the Huskies ended up winning, 30-28. The Huskies went on to earn the Big East's BCS berth.
The Panthers bounced back to finish 8-5 that season, but the loss to the Huskies derailed their BCS dreams and Wannstedt was forced to resign at the end of the season.
"I still have a little sting from that, but it's a new team, new year," fifth-year senior linebacker Joe Trebitz said. "We just want to do what we came to do this year."
Connecticut (3-6, 0-4 Big East) is not nearly as talented offensively this year as that 2010 team, which ran for 249 yards against the Panthers. Connecticut ranks 117th in Division I-A this year in scoring offense (16.6 points per game).
In their four Big East losses, the Huskies have scored as many as 14 points just once, and that came in a 17-14 overtime loss against Temple.
They have made up for some of their offensive struggles with one of the best defenses in the country. The Huskies rank ninth in Division I-A in total defense and 21st in scoring defense.
"You throw on the film and you know UConn's a good football team," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said.
The keys to the Connecticut defense are linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who leads the Big East in tackles for loss, and defensive end Trevardo Williams, who tops the league in sacks.
"They do a lot of different things with him, and he's a versatile player," Pitt center Ryan Turnley said of Smallwood. "Very explosive, very fast."
Pitt's offensive line put together its best performance of the season last week, moving the ball on the ground against Notre Dame's stout defensive front. Turnley and left guard Chris Jacobson both said they hope to keep that momentum going against the Huskies.
And, knowing that a loss would be devastating to their bowl hopes, the Panthers can just look back to two years ago for motivation.
"I want to get another shot back at them because what happened [in 2010,]" Graham said. "It's a conference game, so this would be a good game for us [to win.]"
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published November 9, 2012 5:00 AM