Rutgers receivers present 'challenge'
Dave Wannstedt has heard the talk about Rutgers' struggles on offense and seen the season statistics that back it up.
When the Pitt coach delivered the scouting report to his Panthers, all it took was one glance at their career numbers to appreciate the Scarlet Knights' skill players.
"Everybody talks about their offense, and what's going on," Wannstedt said. "Until you're standing up there talking about some of these players, you don't have an appreciation for what they've accomplished.
"They started playing football in 1869, and the first game was with Rutgers. The guy who's their (No. 2) all-time leading passer is the quarterback. They've got two receivers who are 1,000-yard receivers. Both of those guys are going to be playing in the NFL. They've got a lot of talent, more talent at some skill positions than anybody we'll see all year long."
That's why No. 17 Pitt (5-1, 2-0) will ignore the respective records when it plays host to Rutgers (2-5, 1-2) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field. The Panthers know that quarterback Mike Teel and receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood are capable of beating the Panthers with the pass.
Although Teel has thrown twice as many interceptions (seven) as touchdowns (three) this season, Pitt's defense remains wary of the senior quarterback who ranks in Rutgers' top five in nearly every passing category.
"He's a threat," Berry said. "Last year, he was real hot. This year, he's been inaccurate, but with the leadership and experience he has at quarterback, he can come out and light it up. We have to respect him, respect his arm. We want to send pressure and make him uncomfortable in that pocket."
The height advantage of Britt, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior, and Underwood, a 6-2, 185-pound senior, also presents a matchup problem for Pitt's undersized cornerbacks. Aaron Berry (5-11) and Jovani Chappel (5-9) make up for it with their physical play and solid open-field tackling.
"We're going to have that every week, with me and AB being two of the shorter corners in the conference," Chappel said. "We go in, week in and week out, looking at it as a challenge."
That's not the only reason that the Scarlet Knights have a healthy respect for Pitt, which leads the Big East in pass defense at 156.5 yards a game and held South Florida's spread offense to 129 passing yards on Oct. 2.
"There's really no weak spot in their defense," Underwood said. "Those guys in Pitt's secondary are on the smaller side, but they like to get up in your face and challenge you. They're very aggressive, so you have to stay focused and do your job."
Neither Britt nor Underwood has caught a touchdown this season, but Rutgers has won three consecutive games against Pitt, and its 20-16 victory last season was highlighted by Teel's 53-yard touchdown pass to Britt to tie the game at 10-10 late in the first quarter.
"He's a big-play receiver," said Berry, who expects to cover Britt. "They throw it up and he goes and gets the ball. Nobody really knows what route he's running because his speed is so deceptive. He gets by corners pretty fast. I definitely have to respect his go-route.
"In order for us to win the game, I'm going to have to do a good job locking him down, going into the game with a chip on my shoulder."