Thursday Night Football: West Virginia at Pittsburgh
The eighth-ranked Mountaineers look to stay in the Big East title race when they visit Pittsburgh Thursday in the 99th meeting between the teams.
West Virginia (8-1, 3-1) was knocked out of the national title hunt with a 44-34 loss at then-No. 5 Louisville on Nov. 2. Rodriguez thought his team looked down during pregame warmups before its matchup against Cincinnati on Saturday and instructed his players to chest bump one another in the locker room before kickoff.
Though the Mountaineers failed to score in the first quarter for the first time in 15 games, the strategy seemed to work as West Virginia walked away with a 42-24 win over the Bearcats.
``I told them to loosen up and put a smile on their faces ... and let them have some fun for crying out loud,'' Rodriguez said.
However, Rodriguez doesn't expect to have to pick his team up for Thursday's Backyard Brawl.
``If you have to get guys' intensity level up for the Pitt game, they don't understand what Pitt and West Virginia football is about,'' he said.
The Panthers (6-4, 2-3) lead the all-time series 59-36-3, but the teams have split the last six meetings. West Virginia quarterback Pat White rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns in his team's 45-13 win in Morgantown last season, setting a Big East rushing record for a quarterback that he then broke with 247 yards against Syracuse on Oct. 14.
``Any rivalry game is fun for everybody,'' said running back Steve Slaton, who rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns in last season's game. ``Last year, I got a full feel, the full affect of it. Everybody told me it was big.''
The Mountaineers will again be looking to overpower the Panthers with their running game. West Virginia ranks second in the nation with 318.2 rushing yards per game, Slaton is second in the country with 151.4 a contest and White has run for 567 yards and 11 touchdowns in his last four games.
Pitt, meanwhile, ranks 90th in the nation with 157.6 rushing yards allowed per game.
White and Slaton each ran for a pair of touchdowns Saturday and the Mountaineers scored five of their six TDs on drives of five or fewer plays. West Virginia racked up 313 rushing yards against a Cincinnati defense that hadn't allowed more than 166 on the ground in any of its first nine games this year.
``In the back of everybody's mind, we were still tight from last week,'' said Slaton, who ran for 148 yards on 12 carries. ``Coach Rod had us all loose and ready to turn it around. We were patient on offense. We hit the holes and got it going.''
The Mountaineers are tied with Louisville for second place in the conference, one game behind undefeated Rutgers. West Virginia hosts the seventh-ranked Scarlet Knights in the regular-season finale for both teams on Dec. 2.
``Our goal after we lost to Louisville was to get back into the Big East race. That's our focus right now as we go forward,'' Rodriguez told the team's official website.
The Panthers have dropped three straight, including Saturday's 46-45 defeat in double overtime at Connecticut. Pitt blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead and lost on a successful 2-point conversion by the Huskies.
``You sit back and evaluate, we should have done this and should have done that, but we closed games like that before,'' said quarterback Tyler Palko, who completed 20 of 25 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns. ``We didn't do it today.''
Palko has thrown 22 touchdown passes, 10 more than South Florida's Matt Grothe, who ranks second in the Big East. The Panthers are throwing for 232.2 yards per game, second in the conference to only Louisville, which passed for 354 against the Mountaineers.
Pitt, which began the year with six wins in its first seven games, wraps up its regular season by hosting the Cardinals on Nov. 25.
by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us
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