Panthers ready to move forward

Big conference game gives team chance for redemption

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There's no doubt that Pitt's loss Saturday to Youngstown State in its opener was one of the most disappointing and deflating defeats in the program's history.

It was Pitt's first loss to a Division I-AA opponent, and the Penguins made it look easy.

For as bad as that loss was, though, Pitt has a chance to render it essentially meaningless. The Panthers open Big East Conference play tonight at Cincinnati, and a win against the Bearcats would go a long way in reaffirming that Pitt still has plenty to play for this season.

The loss to Youngstown State doesn't have any impact on Pitt's ability to win the Big East, and only one Division I-AA win can count toward a team's six victories to become bowl-eligible. If the Panthers defeat Gardner-Webb Sept. 22, the Youngstown State loss won't affect Pitt's bowl eligibility.

If the Panthers are to move forward, though, they will have to show that the loss wasn't an indicator of their level of play.

"Whenever we got in the locker room, you could tell that was a taste in our mouth was something we didn't want," quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "We know we have to move forward quickly because we have a great opponent coming up. We're just looking forward to going out and playing."


Thursday
  • Game: Pitt at Cincinnati, 8 p.m.
  • TV: ESPN

Pitt didn't have to wait long after the Youngstown State game to get back on the field. Coach Paul Chryst and his staff had just five days to correct the mistakes and prepare for Cincinnati, which hasn't played this season.

The condensed week might have been an additional challenge for the coaching staff, but it could benefit the players, who are looking for redemption.

"To be able to come in the next day and know we play in four or five days, that helps a lot," center Ryan Turnley said.

The game tonight also represents a chance for the Panthers to strike a major mark in the Big East win column. Cincinnati has won or tied for three of the past four Big East titles, and looks poised to challenge for the crown again this season.

Junior Munchie Legaux will start at quarterback for the Bearcats. Legaux filled in last year and started five games for Cincinnati when Zach Collaros was injured. While he was largely inconsistent, he did show flashes of his dual-threat ability.

Legaux completed just 47.4 percent of his passes last season, with five touchdowns and four interceptions, but also rushed for 185 yards on 41 carries.

"[He's] athletic and, once again, I think the schemes fit the guys that they have," Chryst said.

Like every Big East game on Pitt's schedule this season, this will be the last time the Panthers will face Cincinnati for the foreseeable future, as Pitt will leave the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference next year.

Pitt holds an 8-3 all-time edge in the series, with a 4-3 advantage since Cincinnati joined the Big East in 2005. The Bearcats have won three of the past four meetings, including a three-point victory last season at Heinz Field.

Sunseri said that this game wasn't so much about winning the River City Rivalry trophy for the final time, but rather just getting back on track with a quality conference win.

With the game being nationally televised on ESPN, the Panthers have a chance to serve notice that they aren't the same team that got beat by a Division I-AA foe last week.

"Against Cincinnati, we have to come out and prove ourselves because right now we haven't done anything," Turnley said. "We just have to keep working, keep coming together, keep learning and we'll see where it goes."

NOTE -- The six players who were suspended from Pitt's opener against Youngstown State for "disciplinary reasons" have been reinstated. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Tyrone Ezell, redshirt senior defensive lineman Shayne Hale, sophomore wide receiver Ronald Jones and freshman running back Rushel Shell traveled with the team to Cincinnati and will be eligible to play. Redshirt sophomore DB Anthony Gonzalez and freshman WR Chris Davis have had their suspensions lifted, but were not on the travel roster this week.

pittsports

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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