Hanging the Panthers out to dry

Back to the Big East.

After a disheartening trip down the Big East memory lane – a 27-7 loss to former Big East member No. 7 Miami – during a game that seemed like it took place a month ago, the Bulls now head up to Pittsburgh to face a troubled Panther team under new coaching and struggling to get back to a .500 record.

At 2-4 overall and 0-1 in the Big East, and after coming off a season where it shared the Big East champion title with West Virginia – a team the Bulls face on Oct. 22 for their Homecoming game – the Panthers started off 0-3, losing to Notre Dame, Ohio and Nebraska. Then after their simple win over Division I-AA Youngstown State, the Panthers dropped an important game to Rutgers 39-27 but bounced back to beat bottom-feeder Cincinnati, winning the River City Rivalry 38-20 on Oct. 8.

Dave Wannstedt, coming off a half-year debacle with the Miami Dolphins, returns to coach his alma mater but has been shaky and not living up to predictions. Poised as one of the teams to test Big East newcomer No. 19 Louisville – which USF handed a 45-14 loss on Sept. 24 – Pittsburgh has dropped to fifth in the Big East standings and is trying to keep its heads above bowl waters.

Pittsburgh’s downfall began with the departure of former coach Walt Harris for Stanford. Add the 35-7 embarrassing loss to Urban Meyer’s Utah Utes on Jan. 1 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the 16-10 overtime loss to the University of Ohio on an interception thrown by quarterback Tyler Palko, and you’ve got a tremendous loss of momentum. In other words, there haven’t been many bright spots for the Panthers in 2005 since dropping from No. 23 and out of the rankings after losing to the No. 9 Irish and new coach Charlie Weis.

Despite his six interceptions, Palko is 107-for-198 passing, with 1,366 yards and nine touchdowns, and his best target has been Tampa native Greg Lee, whose 29 receptions for 558 yards and four touchdowns lead the team.

The Bulls will be looking to use the formula that worked against the Cardinals, garnering the biggest upset in school history: Using the offensive weapons in a variety of ways.

First, they will rely on running back Andre Hall, which isn’t too much of a surprise. However, after Hall was shut down in the first quarter against Miami, the Bulls dumped that plan and tried passing, only to see quarterback Pat Julmiste to throw three interceptions and have his receivers drop numerous passes.

Getting the ball to wide receiver Amarri Jackson will be one of the first things on the offensive coordinator’s to-do list, whether it be on the receiving end (six receptions, 97 yards), rushing the ball (two rushes, 63 yards, two touchdowns) or passing (1-for-1, an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Derek Carter).

Keep an eye on: The Bulls’ defense. Even though this speedster squad gave up 178 yards rushing and 173 yards passing to the Hurricanes, the defense is still ranked No. 26 and has only given up 1,526 total yards – good enough for third in the Big East.