Pitt's defense will be under the gun this week.
The last time Pitt played North Carolina State, Philip Rivers was the starting quarterback, and the Panthers intercepted him once and held him to less than 200 passing yards despite 40 attempts in a resounding 34-19 win in the 2001 Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
When Pittsburgh (3-0) faces North Carolina State (2-1) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium, it will be the Panthers' first trip to Raleigh, N.C. since 1988. The Wolfpack won that game, 14-3, but this is a different challenge.
N.C. State has redshirt sophomore Russell Wilson at quarterback, and all he's done is throw 329 straight passes without an interception. Pitt's secondary certainly has its hands full this week, according to junior safety Dom DeCicco.
"Their quarterback definitely is good, fast with a quick release,'' DeCicco said. "So, he really can throw the ball, and they've got some good receivers. I'm sure they're going to come out and test us, if they watched film from our Buffalo game, but we're going to be ready for it. We expect them to come at us.
"The mistakes we made at Buffalo, they were things that we did last year and all camp, things that shouldn't have happened, but they were easy to fix. Basically, it was just things like wrapping up when we tackle a guy or try to make more big plays. But, like I said, we can fix them easily.''
That Buffalo game, the Pitt defensive allowed quarterback Zach Maynard to throw for 400 yards, and the Panthers gave up 500 total yards. The defense clearly tightened considerably against Navy this past week, but North Carolina State should be a bigger challenge.
And according to Pitt fifth-year defensive tackle Gus Mustakas, the Wolfpack won't be afraid to "air it out'' if the Panthers shut down the running game.
"I would say that North Carolina State compares to USF (South Florida),'' Mustakas said. "Their quarterback is athletic like Grothe (USF's Matt). ... Their O-line, they run the same type of offense with a couple reads, but they won't be scared to throw it down the field, either. So, they remind me of USF.
"But their quarterback, he reminds me of Pat White from West Virginia. This quarterback is just as athletic as him. So, it's going to be a real challenge for us. He's probably as athlete as Pat White, but he probably can throw the ball better than him. I just watched film on them for a couple hours, and he's out there tossing the ball down the field. He has a great arm.''
"(And) if I had to compare him (to Maynard), I would say (Wilson) is more athletic, but the Buffalo quarterback is a lot faster,'' Mustakas added. "Wilson can make people miss, shaking people, and his athletic skills probably are more evident. But the Buffalo kid, I would say, definitely is faster.''
The Panthers are aware that Wilson now holds the NCAA passing mark, but he only has one pick as N.C. State's starting quarterback. That was a desperation pass Sept. 13 last year that Clemson's Crezdon Butler grabbed. He broke the record set by Kentucky's Andre Woodson in 2006-07.
"He's probably one of the most athletic quarterbacks that I think we're going to see this year,'' Mustakas said. "It just brings a whole different threat to the game when you face someone like him. For the defensive line, you have to beat the guy, but now it's even a bigger challenge to bring him down.
"He's such a great athlete. So, it's going to be a big challenge for our defensive line and our defense as a whole. (And) I'm sure they'll watch the Buffalo game when we let up a lot of yardage on defense. ... As a D-line, I feel like we're really going to have to get to the ball and pressure the quarterback. We can't let him sit in the pocket at all, and hopefully we'll get that record stopped.''
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt viewed Wilson's accomplishment this way.
"That tells you a couple things,'' Wannstedt said. "He understands what wins and loses football games. Their tight end, right now, is their leading receiver. Their running back is their fourth-leading receiver. That tells you that he'll take the shots down the field, but he will also take what the defense gives him.
"He makes good decisions. When the ball comes out, it comes out fast. He's got a very, very quick release. I think the combination of those two things, and then his athletic ability. He hasn't scrambled as much this year as he did last year, for whatever reason, but he has that capability.''
But Wannstedt and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett should have a good scheme ready for Wilson and the Wolfpack.