Stopping Selvie is Pitt's challenge
In the past, high-octane offenses overshadowed even the best defenses in the Big East. But that could change on Saturday, when No. 20 Pitt hosts unranked South Florida at Heinz Field at noon.
Pitt (6-1 3-0) and South Florida (5-1, 1-1) are ranked fourth and third, respectively in offense in the Big East. Pitt is averaging 33.3 points. The Bulls are scoring 33.7.
However, this matchup likely will be decided by two of the conference's top defenses.
The Bulls possess the No. 1 ranking in total defense (286 yards) and scoring (13.5). Pitt is sixth in total defense (328) and fifth in scoring (18.6), but the Panthers have been practically impregnable in the fourth quarter, particularly in tough wins against Connecticut and Rutgers.
The Panthers' offensive line faces a daunting challenge in fending off South Florida All-America defensive end George Selvie.
Selvie, an imposing figure at 6-4, 240 pounds, is among the best pass-rushers in the country. In fact, his 28.5 career sacks are second only to Arizona State's Dexter Davis, who has 29 to lead all active FBS players.
Selvie has seen enough film of Pitt to conclude that getting to quarterback Bill Stull won't be easy, considering he's been sacked only six times. Yet, Stull was harassed repeatedly by the Scarlet Knights during Pitt's 24-17 win.
"We couldn't get much of a pass rush on him last season, so you have to do the best you can to get back there," said Selvie, a Lombardi Award semifinalist for the third straight season. "There isn't much you can do if they're going to max-protect."
The Pitt offensive line, anchored by left tackle Jason Pinkston and left guard Joe Thomas, is preparing for a defensive front that consistently flushed Cincinnati quarterbacks Tony Pike and Zach Collar out of the pocket - Collar scrambled for a 75-yard touchdown run after Pike was sideline with an injured left wrist.
Selvie figures it might not be as easy getting after Stull, mostly because Pitt seemingly has a more reliable run game with freshmen tailbacks Dion Lewis - ranked third in the nation in rushing - and Ray Graham.
"Pitt wants to ram it down your throat," he said. "They'll do what they do best before trying to throw the ball."
Selvie would prefer the Panthers put the game in Stull's hands, in part, because the Bulls have the top-rated pass defense in the Big East and another legitimate pass-rusher in defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
USF coach Jim Leavitt expects the Panthers will attempt to neutralize Selvie with double teams. After all, he has been double-teamed on 117 of 263 snaps this season.
Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti was hesitant to commit to doubling Selvie.
"They have two very good defensive ends," Cignetti said. "We'll do whatever it takes to protect the quarterback."