(23) Pittsburgh (4-1) at Navy (4-2)
Saturday, October 18th, 3:30 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 23rd-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers visit Annapolis for the first time in 21 years, as they take on the Navy Midshipmen in a non-conference clash.
The Panthers enter the tilt back in the Top 25 following four consecutive victories, all of which have come by 11 points or less. Pitt, which opened the year in the rankings before losing to Bowling Green, was last in play on October 2nd, when it knocked off then 10th-ranked South Florida, 26-21. It was the second of three straight road games for the Panthers, who have regained their swagger and earned the praise of head coach Dave Wannstedt.
"I like our team right now from the standpoint that I believe everyone has their feet on the ground and we know the importance of this Navy game."
Winners of three straight against ranked opponents dating back to last season, the Panthers should be very wary of a Navy team that isn't in the Top 25, but remains very dangerous. The Mids enter this weekend riding a wining streak of their own, as they have posted three consecutive triumphs, including a 33-27 victory over rival Air Force on October 4th. The win improved the team to 4-2 overall and that record takes into account a shocking 24-17 upset at than 15th-ranked Wake Forest on the road. The Mids also own a win over a Big East program, defeating Rutgers 23-21 in their last home game on September 20th.
In a series that began in 1912, Pitt owns a 20-13-3 advantage over Navy, although this is the Panthers first visit to Annapolis since 1987. In last season's encounter, it was the Mids who prevailed 48-45 in a double-overtime thriller at Heinz Field.
The Panthers haven't broken off many big plays this season, but their offense has done a respectable job in gaining 151.2 ypg on the ground and 205.6 ypg through the air. Tailback LeSean McCoy is the key to this unit's success and he is off to a solid start, rushing for 533 yards and seven scores thus far.
In the squad's upset of USF, McCoy turned in one of his best efforts of the season, as he toted 28 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-21 triumph. Quarterback Bill Stull also had a nice game and he converted 16-of-27 tosses for 228 yards and a touchdown.
For the season, Stull has thrown just three touchdowns against the same amount of picks, but coach Wannstedt has witnessed his quarterbacks improvement as the season has progressed.
"I think Bill has gotten better and Bill has become more confident.I think he's more confident with what he's doing out there now from an execution standpoint than he was at the beginning of the season and I think he�s just more confident in his ability to make those plays."
Stull though, hasn't found a favorite target just yet, as Derek Kinder leads the team with only 19 catches and just 197 receiving yards. Still, Stull's improvement each week has helped Pitt regain its form.
Pitt's defense has done well to keep opposing clubs from gaining a lot of yards, as the unit is surrendering only 294.2 total ypg on the year. The unit has been effective against both the run (117.8 ypg) and pass (176.4 ypg) and has also been able to get into the backfield consistently, notching 17 sacks thus far. The defense, though, could stand to create a few more turnovers, generating a mere five thus far.
Facing one of the top offenses in the Big East in their last game, the Panthers did a great job in holding USF to only 245 yards of total offense. Pitt gave up only 14 first downs in the contest, while recording four sacks. Scott McKillip led the charge, as he logged 12 tackles and a pair of sacks. It was another great effort by McKillop, who leads the Panthers in tackles (52) and TFLs (nine) for the season.
Behind their triple-option attack, the Mids are once again among the top rushing teams in the nation, averaging 313.5 ypg on the ground for the season. Shun White currently leads the team with 698 yards and he is averaging an incredible 9.1 ypc. Eric Kettani is equally as dangerous for Navy and he ranks second with 510 rushing yards. Jarod Bryant and Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada have both seen time at quarterback this season and while they are both capable of throwing the ball, they are more dangerous with their legs. On the year, Bryant has rushed for 311 yards and a team-best five scores, while Kaheaku- Enhada has managed 105 yards and two touchdowns in just three games due to injury. In the team's most recent outing, Bryant saw all the action under center and he led the team with 101 yards and a touchdown in a 33-27 win over Air Force. Kettani added 74 yards on 22 carries for Navy, which had an off game in rushing for a still impressive 206 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Navy hasn't been all that great, but the unit has done enough at times to allow the team to win. The defense is giving up just 124.6 ypg on the ground, but has been torched through the air to the tune of 259.7 ypg. The unit however, has been able to make up for some its yards allowed by forcing 14 turnovers, including eight interceptions. In the game against Air Force, the Mids' defense wasn't at its best, surrendering 227 rushing yards and 184 passing. The unit though was bailed out by the special teams, which blocked two punts for touchdowns. Jeff Deliz had 10 stops and a forced fumble in the win and he is tied for the team-lead with 42 tackles for the year.
Both teams enter the contest red-hot and well rested and that should make for a tightly played contest. Pitt though, has the edge on defense and that is why it should prevail on the road this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 35, Navy 26
10/15 10:31:34 ET