Pitt DT Gus Mustaks signals another sack.
The 101st Backyard Brawl, Pitt (7-3, 3-2) versus West Virginia (7-3, 4-1) Friday at noon at Heinz Field, it doesn't get any better than this.
And it doesn't get any more important for the Pittsburgh football program. After a tough loss at Cincinnati last Saturday, the Panthers have had to readjust their season goals. No longer able to win the Big East title and earn the BCS bid with it, Pitt can beat its nearby nemesis and still earn a top-level bowl bid in the process.
"It's just the tradition, all the past years and just recently since I've been here, it's obviously more important to me ... with me playing for Pitt and against some guys I've played against in high school,'' Pitt quarterback Bill Stull said. "That brings out more motivation going into this game every year.
"And we have a lot at stake on top of that. With wins in this game and the last one, we have a chance to go to a great bowl game. But all we're focusing on right now is West Virginia and the Brawl. And believe me, that's a lot.''
Mountaineers quarterback Pat White is on a roll now, as WVU has won six of its past seven games. White was especially tough at Louisville, rushing for more than 200 yards and setting the all-time college football rushing record in the process. He surpassed former Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb's mark.
White was bottled up last year by Pitt and eventually knocked from the game, but with he and sophomore tailback Noel Devine running hard the Mountaineers are hard to slow down on the ground. Devine leads WVU with 1,121 rushing yards (6.8 average) and three touchdowns, while White has 786 yards (5.5) and seven scores. WVU has run for 231 yards per game.
"The D-line, we've got to get a better push and do a better job getting to the quarterback this week,'' Pitt defensive end Jabaal Sheard said. "We can't let him move around to much. We've got to stop him and get him down before he throws the ball.''
While they had some trouble containing Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike last week, defensive tackle Gus Mustakas noted that the Panthers have to be more gap sound against White because "when Pike hit the hole he could take it maybe 10-12 yards, but White can take it all the way when he hits it,'' Mustakas said.
Just ask Pitt fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop. He still has nightmares about White since their first encounter several years ago.
"Sometimes,'' McKillop said. "My first real action against any college team was against West Virginia as a redshirt freshman when H.B. Blades went down. Mentally and physically, any aspect, I wasn't ready to play. So, that was an eye-opener for me to let me know what I needed to do and where I needed to go. It really helped my preparation for the next year and beyond.
"Pat White, he's really progressed as a passer this year. He's always been able to beat you with his legs, and he has. Being the NCAA's all-time leading rusher as a quarterback, that's a pretty big accomplishment. But he's become a pretty good passer this year. So, he's not as one-dimensional as he used to be. So, they want to stretch out the field and really be balanced on offense.''
White has completed better than 65 percent of his passes for 1,226 yards and 17 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Running back Jock Sanders is the top pass-catcher with 41 catches and seven touchdowns. Devine has 28 catches. The other key receivers are redshirt junior wideout Alric Arnett and fifth-year senior wideout Dorrell Jalloh with 22 catches each and four and five touchdowns, respectively.
"The way our defense played last year, we didn't try to do too much,'' Mustakas said. "We were very sound and focused. We can do it again this year, I believe, with the same type of performance. We'll have a good scheme, I'm sure, and we'll need to stick to it. That's the only way to be successful.
"In college, there aren't too many pocket-type quarterbacks any more. They all can move around and are threats to run. The spread offense is very popular, so it's more important for our D-line to swarm him and not let him get outside of our containment. That's our most important thing this week.''
And staying on point after refocusing their goals.