Brawl outcome could hinge on marquee backs
College Football Videos
Long before the season began, Pitt and West Virginia were expected to dominate the Big East.
After all, the Panthers and Mountaineers arguably possessed two of the country's top running backs — Dion Lewis and Noel Devine, respectively. Their numbers were off the charts last season — a combined 3,264 rushing yards.
And most people figured those numbers could be better this season. As a result, it appeared highly likely that Friday's 103rd Backyard Brawl probably would be a showcase between two Heisman Trophy candidates.
However, as is the unpredictable nature of college football, this Big East season hasn't followed script. Instead, it's been a predictable plot as favorites and underdogs are distinguished only by the final score.
No one, though, could have predicted the uneven seasons of both Lewis and Devine. Devine has been largely victimized by nagging injuries, and Lewis' promising season soured some behind a makeshift offensive line.
Lewis, who carried the load last season, found himself splitting duty with Ray Graham. Surprisingly, Graham leads the Panthers in rushing with 837 yards — 157 more on 24 fewer carries than Lewis.
"I don't think it has anything to do with who is running the football," Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti said. "The first series, South Florida played us very vanilla and we went right down the field and ran the ball (with Lewis).
"The second series, they came out and blitzed and moved, they created some movement, so I think it's more what are defenses doing and less who is in the game actually running the ball, because they're both doing a very nice job."
Still, when the Panthers and Mountaineers face off at noon at Heinz Field, the effectiveness of both teams' game plans might hinge on how well Lewis and Devine perform with the automatic BCS bowl bid still within their teams' grasp.
Lewis seemed eager to get after West Virginia only minutes after torching the South Florida defense for 105 yards — only his second 100-yard game of the season. Devine, who has had just one 100-yard game in the past six, has a huge chip on his shoulder coming into the conference battle.
Devine isn't talking, but Lewis is optimistic that he's turned around his season.
"This is a big game for us and the running game," said Lewis, who rushed for 155 against West Virginia last season. "We are expecting a real challenge, and we'll be ready."
For the most part, the Panthers bottled up Devine in holding him to "only" 134 yards. But he caught the blitzing Pitt defense napping, particularly in the secondary, and high-stepped along the sidelines for an 88-yard touchdown late in the third quarter of the Mountaineers' 19-16 victory at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Even though Devine appears a step slower this season, Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett continues to focus on containing him.
"He convinced me last year with that 80-something yard run that we're going to have to be aware," Bennett said. "He's a very good football player.
"I know people look for things, but they have a chance at any time to be explosive. You can't just say I'm going to take this guy away. When you play a team like that, you've got to be pretty balanced yourself."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Paving, electronics upgrades evident at Steel Valley
- Pirates show depth in earning victory over Rockies; Polanco has big night
- Healthy, confident Steelers LB Shazier ready for full speed ahead
- Timing drives former KHL star Plotnikov
- Gorman: An ‘honor’ to follow a legend
- Pirates notebook: Catcher Cervelli among ejection leaders
- Pirates notebook: Hurdle mulling rotation options
- Historic WWII-era landing ship tank docking at Heinz Field
- ATI picket injured at Harrison mill
- New Orleans slow to heal 10 years after Hurricane Katrina
- Clinton: Women ‘expect’ extremism from terrorists, not GOP candidates