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Pittsburgh (3-1) at (10) South Florida (5-0)
Thursday, October 2nd, 7:30 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 10th-ranked South Florida Bulls put their undefeated record on the line this Thursday, as they kick off the Big East portion of their schedule against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bulls enter the contest with an unblemished record of 5-0 and that includes three wins by eight points or less. Last weekend however, USF took care of business in more convincing fashion, as it defeated NC State 41-10 on the road. The team has now won five straight games to open a campaign for the second straight year and the third time in program history. The Bulls also moved into the Top 10 and while this is certainly a positive, head coach Jim Leavitt recalls a similar situation last year in which his team was perfect before losing out in a Thursday night game to Rutgers.
"Last season when we were in this situation with a Thursday night game, we went to Rutgers and did not play well," said Leavitt. "This is great for our fans, but we as a team have to stay focused on Pitt and do everything we can to give our best effort on Thursday night."
As for Pittsburgh, it got conference play underway last weekend with a 34-24 triumph at hapless Syracuse. It was the third straight win by the Panthers, who have recovered nicely from a 27-17 season-opening loss to Bowling Green. With a win this Thursday, Pittsburgh would be off to a 4-1 start for the fourth time in the last nine years.
With regard to the all-time series, the Bulls have captured wins in three of the five prior meetings with the Panthers. As matter of fact, USF has won the last two encounters and by a combined score of 70-49.
The Panthers are coming off their best offensive performance of the season, as they racked up 407 total yards, including 241 on the ground, in a 34-24 win over Syracuse last weekend. The offense even controlled the ball for over 38 minutes and that is good news for this Pittsburgh team, which is averaging 152.8 rushing ypg and 200.0 passing ypg for the season. LeSean McCoy led the charge last weekend, as he rushed for 149 yards on 28 carries. It was the first 100-yard effort of the season by McCoy, who tops the roster with 391 yards and five scores on the ground for the season. Fellow back, LaRod Stephens-Howling, also got involved against Syracuse, rushing for 71 yards and his first two touchdowns on 13 carries. With the success on the ground, quarterback Bill Stull just needed to manage the offense and he did so by throwing for 166 yards and a score on 17-of-29 pass attempts. Stull hasn't put up big numbers this season, but he has done a decent job in passing for 200.0 ypg. Derek Kinder was his favorite target last weekend with eight catches for 92 yards and he now leads the team with 19 receptions for the year.
Defensively, the Panthers have been stingy this season and opposing clubs are managing just 118.2 ypg on the ground and only 188.2 ypg through the air against them. The unit hasn't forced many turnovers (four), but it has compensated for that by registering 13 sacks. Last weekend, Pittsburgh did a good job in slowing down the Syracuse offense, allowing only 263 total yards and just 12 first downs. The defense recorded one turnover and two sacks in the win, while limiting Syracuse to just a 3-of-9 effort on third down chances. Scott McKillop led the charge with nine stops, while Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus each logged a sack. For the season, McKillop leads the team with 40 stops and six TFLs, and Sheard and Romeus are tied with 2.5 sacks apiece.
The Bulls had their way with NC State this past weekend, amassing 520 total yards and 29 first downs in a 41-10 triumph. The offense did it on the ground, rushing for 245 yards, and through the air, passing for 275 yards, and didn't commit a single turnover in the process.
"I know coming in to tonight our coaches thought we could throw the ball on them (NC State)," said coach Leavitt. We had a lot of things open up underneath that we noticed and were able to exploit. Matt (Grothe) had a pretty good night and our backs all ran hard. I'm proud of all of them."
Grothe, as usual, did a little of everything for the Bulls, as he led the team with 68 rushing yards, in addition to throwing for 259 yards and a score on 20-of-29 pass attempts. The key to the offense, Grothe is in the midst of another strong campaign and he has completed 66.0 percent of his tosses for 1,175 yards, with eight touchdowns against just two interceptions. He is also dangerous with his legs, leading the team with 219 rushing yards. Grothe's ability to take off with the ball is a big reason why the Bulls are averaging a healthy 201.4 rushing ypg on the season. Moise Plancher (192 yards), Jamar Taylor (181) and Mike Ford (152) are all players that have chipped in to the team's success on the ground as well. The air attack though, is just as explosive, averaging 263.0 passing ypg. Three players have already posted over 200 yards receiving for the Bulls, making them difficult to defend.
The Bulls have given up 10 points or fewer three times already and that includes just a total of 19 points over their last two outings. The defense is giving up a mere 243.8 total ypg, with just 58.8 of those ypg coming on the ground. Last weekend, USF was once again stout on the defensive side of the ball, as it held NC State to only 265 total yards, including just 26 rushing. The team also picked off three passes and that was certainly a positive for the Bulls, who had just three interceptions heading into the contest. Jerome Murphy led the way with six tackles and an interception, while Tyrone McKenzie had five stops and a pick of his own. On the year, McKenzie tops the roster with 31 stops and he is trailed by Murphy, who has 29 tackles and a team-best two picks to his credit.
These are two of the better teams in the Big East, so expect a battle this Thursday. USF though, has a big advantage playing at home and with Grothe running the show, it should be able to outlast a Pittsburgh club that lacks some explosiveness.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Florida 31, Pittsburgh 17
10/01 10:30:50 ET