Pitt, Connecticut 'similar in a lot of ways'
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Connecticut is only in its seventh season as a Division I-A football program, but the Huskies already have become extremely competitive with a rather simple formula -- keep things simple, play tough, physical football and don't make mistakes.
That philosophy is one that has served the Huskies well and is shared by Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, which is why he knows the Panthers will have to play their best football game of the year Thursday in order to have a chance to win.
He said looking at Connecticut on film is like looking at his team in the mirror because they are so similar in so many ways and that has made for some excellent games between the two over the years.
"Games with Connecticut have been very challenging games for us," Wannstedt said at his weekly news conference. "They are similar in a lot of ways to us: They are a physical football team, they run the football very effectively, they have the top rusher in our conference, and one of the top in the country, and that seems to always be the case.
"And on defense, they play a 4-3 defense, which is similar to us from a schematic standpoint. And whether it is at our place or their place, it is always a very close game, a very tough game with a lot of back and forth. And we all know they play very well at home."
The Panthers (5-3, 3-0 Big East) and Huskies (4-4, 1-2) will meet Thursday night at Rentschler Field in a key conference game. Pitt will look to extend its winning streak to four games and also will attempt to take a commanding two-game lead -- with three to play -- on the rest of the conference.
But the Huskies are always a tough out, especially at Rentschler where they are 2-1 against the Panthers, which is why there is little margin for error according to Wannstedt.
"They are sound in everything they do," he said. "They don't give up a lot of big plays, they rely on their front four and their front seven, and their three linebackers are as good as any group in our conference. They can really play."
Wannstedt said the week off has helped the Panthers because they are well rested and healthy.
He said Sunday's practice, after a couple of days off, was as crisp as the Panthers have had this year because the team looked like it had fresh legs again.
"Our guys have been good," Wannstedt said. "We were a little quicker it seemed like. I liked our energy and focus, I like that we have the attitude of not getting ahead of ourselves and just take it one day at a time. We need to get back on track and play as good as we can play.
"I was anxious to see how we would respond coming back from a little bit of a rest. I thought I saw some quickness back -- that was the theme at practice -- the players said they feel like they got a step or two back."
Rentschler Field holds only 40,000 but is loud and has been tough on opponents this season. The Huskies are 4-0 at home including a 16-13 overtime win Oct. 29 against West Virginia.
Wannstedt said the Panthers spent a lot of time in practice the past week working with crowd noise piped in and developing some silent snap counts for the offense because he expects it to be loud and hostile.
"The crowd is on top of you," Wannstedt said. "It will be a very enthusiastic crowd. We're expecting it to be loud as always and we had the noise at practice. Just from being up there two or four years ago, if you let them get into the game they will be into it. I'm optimistic we can keep our focus.
"I think one thing which will help -- we played at the Carrier Dome and that is loud. We've had some full houses at Utah and Notre Dame and I'm hopeful we will take some of those experiences with us up to Connecticut and not let the noise become a distraction."
NOTES -- Wannstedt said defensive end Greg Romeus is going to be a "game-time" decision. "He'll be listed as questionable [on the Panthers' injury report] and if he plays and how much he plays will be based on how he feels, is he in game shape, his technique work -- there are a lot of things we are evaluating on a day-to-day basis." ... Wannstedt said his team has not overlooked the fact that a number of upsets seem to happen each week in college football. "Hopefully that is a lesson to everyone," he said, "and that goes for coaches, players, media ... every week is a new week and what we did last week really doesn't matter this week." ... The Pitt-South Florida game Nov. 20 will be a noon kickoff and televised on ESPN2.
First Published November 9, 2010 12:00 am