PITTSBURGH (AP) -Call it the Big East of the present against the Big East of the future.
The Big East's two most productive running backs will be matched Saturday when Pittsburgh (4-5, 2-2 Big East) and freshman LeSean McCoy take on Rutgers (6-4, 2-3) and junior Ray Rice.
While Rice and McCoy are 1-2 among the Big East rushing leaders, their similarities end right about there.
Rice, a physical running back who often drags multiple tacklers with him for extra yardage, has a Big East-best 1,500 yards in 10 games and averages 5.2 yards per carry. McCoy, who leads all non-redshirt freshmen nationally with 1,065 yards in nine games, is more of a classic catch-me-if-you-can runner with speed and elusiveness.
For Pitt to have any chance of winning Saturday at Rutgers and getting back to .500 for the season, the Panthers must defend Rice much better than they did in the past.
Last season, Rice ran for 225 yards and a touchdown as Rutgers wore down Pitt before winning 20-10 at Heinz Field, with Rice gaining 85 yards by himself on one drive. In 2005, Rice ran for 114 yards as Rutgers opened a 27-0 halftime lead while beating Pitt 37-29.
Clearly, the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Rice has been a difference-maker in this series. Until Rice began running up big yardage against them, the Panthers had won six in a row against Rutgers.
Rutgers is 17-5 during Rice's career when he gets 100 yards or more.
``For his size, he's very powerful and he's got great balance,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. ``He can make a 4- or 5-yard run, and when you look at it on tape, you tell yourself there was no space there for a back to get 4 or 5 yards.''
Similarly, Pitt has become very reliant in a hurry on McCoy, who needs 164 yards in Pitt's final three games to move past Curvin Richards into second place among Pitt freshman runners. Tony Dorsett holds the school freshman record with 1,686 yards in 1973.
McCoy also can break the Big East record for yards by a freshman - Terrell Willis' 1,261 yards for Rutgers in 1993 - by gaining another 197 yards.
Wannstedt was a Pitt offensive tackle who blocked for Dorsett during that 1973 season. Obviously, Wannstedt could be excused for not wanting to compare the 5-11, 200-pound McCoy just yet to Dorsett, the former Heisman Trophy winner and onetime major college career rushing leader.
Then again, maybe he is ready to do exactly that.
``The only comparison I would make is that Tony was a guy that anytime he touched the ball, you felt like he could win the game for you or hit a home run for you,'' Wannstedt said. ``LeSean's that type of player. Tony came in and performed at a high level in his first season. The transition from high school or prep school to college life is a big question mark and a big hurdle for a lot of these kids.
``Tony came in and handled that extremely well and LeSean has also.''
McCoy has gained 120 yards or more in his last four games, gaining 140 yards (Syracuse), 120 (Louisville), 137 (Cincinnati) and 165 (Navy). He has been held below 70 yards only once, getting 68 in the opener against Eastern Michigan after not starting the game.
Pitt hasn't had a winning record or gone to a bowl game since 2004, and almost certainly must win against Rutgers, South Florida (7-3) and No. 5 West Virginia (8-1) to make a bowl appearance. Improbable as it might seem, the Panthers aren't ruling that out.
``We've won two of our last three and our team feels better about itself than we have all year,'' Wannstedt said. ``There are some positive things - as few as they may be - that have happened the last few weeks. The kids have grabbed hold of them and are focusing on them, and they want to finish the season on a positive note.''

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