As USF prepares to hit the meat of its conference schedule, the team most expected to contend for the Big East title alongside Louisville has slipped off track. The Pittsburgh Panthers enter Saturday’s game with the Bulls after being roughed up a bit following a shaky first half of the season.
The Panthers have managed only two wins this season, one against 1-AA Youngstown State and the other against conference doormat, Cincinnati, in coach Dave Wannstedt’s first season as head coach of his alma mater. Pittsburgh, the defending Big East champ, can do little to feel confident about the upcoming schedule. The Panthers still have to face No. 19 Louisville and Syracuse after facing the Bulls.
The Bulls should not overlook the cornered cat licking its wounds.
The last thing the Bulls need is a trap game. USF coaches and players have had two weeks to prepare for Pittsburgh after being dismantled by Miami. The key to the Bulls’ success again lies with the running game. When Pittsburgh drops eight guys in the box, our receiving talent has the ability to get out into space.
Quarterback Pat Julmiste will need to do a better job of hitting the receivers in stride. Many of the passes against the Hurricanes were sure completions if they were just aimed a tad lower. More pop-up balls could put the Bulls back into a hole.
The defense will be prepared after keeping Miami in check. If the Bulls defense does not have to play with a short field behind them, they can use their lateral speed to close many passing lanes.
The key to shutting down the Pittsburgh offense is containing talented quarterback Tyler Palko.
Palko shredded the Bulls last year to the tune of 411 yards and five touchdowns.
The Bulls were Pittsburgh’s catapult into the BCS.
Make no mistake, the Panthers are dangerous. The same team started 2-2 last season before winning six of their last seven games.
Last season, coach Jim Leavitt predicted after the Pittsburgh game that the Bulls would be competitive right away if the defense played well.
At midseason, USF is No. 18 in the nation in scoring defense and No. 26 overall.
Pittsburgh ranks No. 29.
Expect this weekend’s matchup to be a low-scoring affair.
USF, having the better ground attack, will have the edge despite being three-and-a-half point underdogs.
The Bulls’ BCS chances are on the line this weekend on the road.
Looking ahead to West Virginia at home next weekend could leave the Bulls with a chipped horn.