Pittsburgh (6-2, 2-1) at USF (5-3, 1-2)When: Sat., NoonWhere: Raymond James StadiumTV/Radio: ABC 28, 970 AM
It’s not that he’s just torched the Bulls, because he has.
It’s not that he’s found some success when facing USF.
It’s that Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko has does it consistently, with ease, the past two years.
Saturday will be the third time in as many years the Bulls face Pittsburgh. And while USF may have a two-game losing steak against the Panthers, coach Jim Leavitt said one thing holds the outcome to Saturday’s noon game.
Actually, just one player.
The senior, who leads the Big East in passing by more than 400 yards over USF quarterback Matt Grothe, has 18 touchdowns passes. He is also 34-of-49 passing for 614 yards and has eight touchdown passes against the Bulls.
“Palko makes this team,” Leavitt said following Thursday’s practice. “It’s his team. He is very, very talented.”
Leavitt added that even though Palko is left-handed, the team didn’t change any defensive packages.
“We didn’t (do anything different),” Leavitt said. “He might be left-handed, but he’s going to throw to the left side. He’s going to spray the ball all over the field to all different people.”
Palko’s USF counterpart, Grothe, said at Tuesday’s media luncheon that Palko is a “mistake-free” quarterback.
“He plays real smart,” Grothe said. “He’s a senior this year, so he knows his offense real well – doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
But Palko lost his main target from the past two seasons. Chamberlain grad and receiver Greg Lee left after his junior season in 2005 and was picked up by the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL Draft. While the Tampa native isn’t on the active roster for the Cardinals, he did have a stellar game against USF at Heinz Field in 2005, with three catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
But Leavitt is fairly aware Lee is gone.
“They don’t have Greg Lee anymore,” Leavitt said, “but they have other great receivers and an offensive that helps Palko a lot.”
Palko’s new main target this season has been junior Derek Kinder, who leads the Panthers with 33 catches for 596 yards and six touchdowns.
But Leavitt said Tuesday that Palko will “test” the Bulls’ defense and that they will “need a really good pass rush” to get to him.
Even though he hasn’t had a interception since the Sept. 29 game Rutgers, Trae Williams still leads the defense with five picks. Williams and fellow cornerback Mike Jenkins will have their hands full, as Palko averages nearly 25 pass attempts a game.
As for the pass rush, defensive linemen George Selvie, Josh Julmiste and Allen Cray will face what Leavitt calls “one of the biggest lines we’ve faced” this season.
“Palko is the key to this offense,” Leavitt said. “You’ve got to do a number of things to have a chance to slow them down. He’s going to make some throws, he’s going to complete some passes, there’s nothing you can do about that, but it’s going to have to be the whole defense playing together.”