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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 1, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Raymond James Stadium (51,811) -- Tampa, Florida. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Pitt 4-2, USF 2-3. Away Record: Pitt 1-4, USF 1-5. Neutral Record: Pitt 0-0, USF 0-0. Conference Record: Pitt 2-4, USF 1-5. Series Record: Pitt leads 6-3.
GAME NOTES: The postseason hopes of the Pittsburgh Panthers hang in the balance as they travel to Raymond James Stadium for a Big East clash with the South Florida Bulls, who are looking to play spoiler.
Consecutive road losses to Notre Dame and Connecticut had Pittsburgh reeling as it returned home to host Rutgers last weekend. However the Panthers showed a ton of resiliency and handed the conference leaders a 27-6 defeat. The win puts Pittsburgh at 5-6 overall this season and just one win away from bowl eligibility. If Pittsburgh is going to accomplish that feat it will have to buck its road woes where the Panthers are just 1-4 this season.
There will be no postseason for South Florida as after back-to-back road losses to Miami-Florida and Cincinnati, the Bulls dropped to 3-8 overall this season. It has been a very disappointing campaign for USF after a 2-0 start, as the Bulls have dropped eight of their last nine contests, including the last two by a combined 48 points.
These teams first met in 2001 and have had nine matchups in that time. Pittsburgh leads the series 6-3 and is coming off a 44-17 rout of the Bulls at Heinz Field last season.
Few would have thought that against the dominating defense of Rutgers that Pittsburgh would have had a ton of success last weekend. However the Panthers did just that led by Tino Sunseri. The quarterback threw for 227 yards and a pair of scores on 21-of-39 passing and was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. Sunseri has excelled this season in transforming Pittsburgh into the third best passing offense in the Big East (267.7 ypg). Sunseri has completed 65.8 percent of his pass attempts for 2,892 yards and 18 scores. More importantly his turnovers have been few and far between with just a pair of interceptions.
Pittsburgh can also turn to the run game with Ray Graham in the backfield. Graham ranks third in school history in rushing yards currently (3,177) and is nearing his first career 1,000-yard rushing season. On the season, Graham has rushed for 948 yards and nine scores, while also picking up 36 receptions, 340 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Rushel Shell (509 yards, 4 TDs) is a serviceable backup.
The pass-catching duo of Mike Shanahan and Devin Street have been strong in the Panthers' offense. The pair rank second and third in the Big East in receiving yards per game with Street (74.5 ypg) the leader. Street has hauled in 60 passes for 820 yards and four scores, while Shanahan (49 receptions, 810 yards, 5 TDs) has produced at a high level as well.
On defense Pittsburgh has also been near the top of the conference, despite what its record may imply. The Panthers ranked third in total defense (344.8 ypg) and are right in the middle of the pack in scoring (21.2 ppg). The team has not created a ton of turnovers (16) but has a +8 turnover margin, the second best in the Big East, thanks to the ball security of the offense.
Jason Hendricks (69 tackles, 4 INTs) and Jarred Holley (67 tackles, 2 INTs) are the top two stoppers and the most dangerous pass defenders on the roster. Aaron Donald (58 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) is the leading pass rusher.
Although the whole season can't be blamed on an injury the last two weeks certainly weren't improved by the loss of starting quarterback B.J. Daniels to a broken left ankle. Filling in for Daniels has been Matt Floyd who has been nothing more than serviceable. Floyd has completed just 53.6 percent of his pass attempts for 373 yards and a pair of interceptions and has yet to throw a touchdown for the Bulls. That gives him a quarterback rating of just 86.11.
That puts a lot of pressure on the running game, which while solid, is nowhere near productive enough to carry this squad. Demetris Murray (652 yards, 6 TDs) is the top rusher while Lindsey Lamar (475 yards, 3 TDs) has been a bit more explosive with a stellar 7.2 yards per carry average. Murray has also been a favored option in the passing game with 20 receptions, although those catches have equaled only 134 yards.
Only two receivers on the roster have more than 20 catches this season led by Andre Davis (44 receptions, 522 yards, 6 TDs), who is averaging only 47.5 yards per game. Terrence Mitchell (31 receptions, 414 yards, TD) is the other pass catcher to have equaled 20 or more catches.
Scoring has largely been a problem for South Florida as it ranks second to last in the conference in points per game (22.2), while ranking fifth in total offense (390.3 ypg).
If the offense has been a mess than it doesn't say much for the defense. The Bulls are the second to worst defensive team in the Big East in both scoring (27.5 ppg) and total yards (408.6 ypg). They are one of two teams in the entire conference to be surrendering more than 400 yards of total offense on a regular basis.
Kayvon Webster (75 tackles) and Sam Barrington (73 tackles) have each hit the 70-tackle plateau, while DeDe Lattimore (3.5 sacks) is the top pass rusher on a unit that has struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The defense also doesn't make enough plays on the ball with just nine forced turnovers this season which has led to the worst turnover margin (-16) in the Big East and third worst in the nation.
Pittsburgh plays a fundamentally sound game and rarely makes mistakes. South Florida has not been so fortunate this season and although it will benefit from playing at home, there isn't much else to point to in terms of advantages.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 29, South Florida 17
11/28 10:41:37 ET
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