2011 Prediction & Game Story
Week 13, Pitt at West Virginia
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Nov. 25 at West Virginia 21 … Pitt 20
CFN Analysis: COMING
(AP) MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Shawne Alston rushed for two second-half touchdowns, including a 1-yarder with 6:10 left, and West Virginia came from 10 points down to beat Pittsburgh 21-20 on Friday night.
West Virginia sacked Tino Sunseri 10 times, including four on Pittsburgh's final drive, when time ran out on the Panthers.
The Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2 Big East) can earn a share of the conference title next week at South Florida. West Virginia also holds slim hopes for earning the league's automatic BCS berth and would need some help in a tight league race.
Pittsburgh (5-6, 3-3) led 17-7 at halftime but was limited to 80 yards in the second half.
Pittsburgh starting running back Zach Brown left the game with an undisclosed injury just before halftime and backup Isaac Bennett left the game midway through the third. Bennett would later return, but Pittsburgh's offense stalled and West Virginia gained momentum.
Alston's 8-yard TD run midway through the third quarter cut West Virginia's deficit to 20-14.
In the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers turned the ball over on downs and Tyler Urban fumbled the ball away on the Mountaineers' next drive.
But a personal foul on Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald gave West Virginia a first down at the Panthers' 28. On fourth-and-7, Geno Smith hit Tavon Austin for nine yards. Alston followed with an 11-yard run and then ran in the go-ahead score to cap the 83-yard drive and give West Virginia its first lead of the game.
Pittsburgh was forced to punt with 2:30 left and got one last chance from its own 34 after West Virginia went three-and-out. Sunseri ran for a first down on fourth-and-1. But he was called for intentional grounding on the next play and Pittsburgh couldn't move the ball as time ran out.
Sunseri went 12 of 23 for 137 yards.
Mistakes on West Virginia's special teams contributed to Pittsburgh's first 17 points.
West Virginia's George Wright was called for a low block on a Pittsburgh field goal attempt that went wide right in the first quarter. Brown scored from a yard out five plays later.
Bad punting has been a problem all season for the Mountaineers. Freshman Michael Molinari's 22-yarder late in the first quarter set up Pittsburgh near midfield, and the Panthers scored in five plays, with Bennett going in from 6 yards out for a 14-0 lead.
Molinari's next punt went 27 yards and he was replaced by Corey Smith, who was stellar the rest of the game. West Virginia punted on six of its eight first-half possessions, went 0-for-6 on third down and was held to 141 total yards before halftime.
A bouncing Pitt punt went off West Virginia's Ishmael Banks and the Panthers recovered at the West Virginia 33, leading to a field goal for a 17-7 halftime lead.
The special teams follies continued in the third quarter when Austin fumbled a punt and Pittsburgh recovered at the Mountaineers 16, leading to another Kevin Harper field goal.
West Virginia replaced two of its offensive linemen early in the third quarter. And despite being held to minus-2 yards rushing in the first half, the Mountaineers stayed with their ground game. West Virginia ran for 44 yards on its second drive of the third quarter that led to Alston's second score.
Smith completed 22 of 31 passes for 244 yards and set school single-season school records for pass completions (291), attempts (448) and yards (3,741), formerly held by West Virginia quarterback Marc Bulger in 1998.
Midway through the second quarter, West Virginia's Stedman Bailey caught a long pass over the middle and appeared to be hemmed in by three defenders, but he reversed course and scored on a 63-yard pass play.
Bailey caught three passes for 80 yards, giving him a school-record 1,117 yards, breaking the old mark of 1,043 set by David Saunders in 1996. Austin's 10 catches for 102 yards gave him 82 receptions, breaking the mark of 77 shared by two others. He now has 1,009 yards on the season, giving the Mountaineers two 1,000-yard receivers for the first time in one season.
Pittsburgh (5-5) at West Virginia (7-3) Nov. 25, 7:00, ESPN
Here's The Deal … The 104th edition of the Backyard Brawl comes with a twist—both Pitt's Todd Graham and West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen will experience all of its intensity and vitriol for the first time as head coaches.
Graham has actually participated in a pair of these games as a member of Rich Rodriguez's staff a decade ago. He's come a long way since then, taking over for Dave Wannstedt prior to this season. His first team in Western Pennsylvania has been a schizophrenic one, never gaining much traction, or cobbling together back-to-back wins since beating Buffalo and Maine in the first two weeks. To be fair, the Panthers have had to deal with the implementation of new systems, and the crushing loss of star RB Ray Graham to an Oct. 26 injury. Pitt is in an interesting situation—it can win two to remain in the hunt for a Big East title … or lose two, and miss the postseason entirely.
Holgorsen has had his share of ups-and-downs, on and away from the field, since arriving in Morgantown. Heck, he was supposed to spend 2011 as a coach-in-waiting prior to the news that then-head coach Bill Stewart was trying to sabotage his successor.
The Mountaineers have been inconsistent, especially over the last month. The favorite in the preseason, and the league member that's spent the most time in the Top 25, has suffered two unacceptable losses to Syracuse and Louisville in the last month to lose its grip on the Big East lead. West Virginia did, however, hand Cincinnati its first conference loss of 2011 before the break, and remains very much in the hunt for a BCS bowl game.
Why Pittsburgh Might Win: While Graham's offense has been slow to come around in his first year, his defense has not. In fact, the unit has gotten progressively better as the season has unfolded. Only South Florida generated more than 400 yards in the last seven games, and most of that production came in desperation catch-up mode.
The Panthers are particularly stout in the front seven, boasting the country's No. 5 sack unit, while allowing just 3.3 yards a carry. They'll an edge on a mediocre West Virginia front wall that's had all kinds of problems with quicker opponents. With Aaron Donald and Brandon Lindsey on the outside, and Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein on the inside, Pitt can beat the Mountaineers off the snap, and spend much of the evening blowing up plays before they're able to develop.
Why West Virginia Might Win: Pitt will have a difficult time matching the playmakers of the Mountaineers offense, especially away from Heinz Field. The Panthers are just 1-2 on the road, averaging only 19 points over those three games. They've lacked a workhorse since Graham went down, and QB Tino Sunseri is a weekly question mark. West Virginia, on the other hand, has quite a bit more pop, norming nearly 37 points a game.
QB Geno Smith is a budding star at his position, surrounded by a plethora of gifted skill position players. The junior should be able to exploit an average Pitt secondary, with plenty of support from top targets, like Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Ivan McCartney. If the ‘eers are successful in upping the tempo of this one, the Panthers will struggle to keep pace.
What To Watch Out For: What will Pittsburgh get from Sunseri on Friday? Like it or not, he often holds the key to the Panthers' fortunes. Now, he won't have to go stride-for-stride with Smith, but he will have to be more than a just bystander when his team has the ball. The junior has just nine touchdown passes, while his guys are 1-3 in games in which he's been intercepted. Plus, his line ranks last nationally in sacks allowed, which means he'll need to have his head on a swivel for No. 11 and No. 52, DE Bruce Irvin and LB Najee Goode, respectively.
Pitt was able to survive predictability when Graham was carrying the load, but Wisconsin transfer Zach Brown isn't the same kind of threat for the offense.
What Will Happen: All signs point to Pitt keeping this game very close; it's well-rested, playing its hated rival and boasts a defense that's coming on strong. However, the Panthers won't have quite enough on offense to parlay a moral victory into one that shows up in the Big East standings.
West Virginia has Smith and the Morgantown crowd, neither of which can be overstated. The Mountaineers will be slightly more productive in the red zone than their visitor, the difference in a physical game that'll take most of 60 minutes to decide.
CFN Prediction: West Virginia 38 … Pittsburgh 30
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