'Backyard Brawl' finally arrives for Pitt-WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- How successful West Virginia plays against No. 16 Pitt tonight will depend on how the young offensive line performs in their first "Backyard Brawl."
That's right, how much running room super back Quincy Wilson finds and how much time quarterback Rasheed Marshall has, will determine the success of the Mountaineers (3-1 Big East, 5-4 overall) in this first-place showdown against the Panthers (4-0, 7-2) at Mountaineer Field.
The Mountaineers are young up front. At least four of the five have never played against Pitt. They'll get baptized quickly.
Junior left guard Jeff Berk is the only player who started against Pitt last year, but Berk has turf toe and may not play. That means all five starters could be new to this epic contest.
The Mountaineers' struggles early in the season were a result of an inexperienced offensive line. The team lost left guard Tim Brown for the season. The senior suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon prior to the Wisconsin game.
Numerous changes to the line were made prior to the Miami game. West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez and offensive line coach Rick Trickett seem to have found the right fit.
Redshirt freshman Jeremy Hines took over the center position against Virginia Tech. Redshirt freshman Dan Mozes (Washington) has started every game at left guard, and Berk has moved from tackle to right guard. Junior-college transfer Mike Watson is the left tackle, while sophomore Garin Justice has secured the right tackle spot.
If Berk can't start, Rodriguez said redshirt freshman Jeremy Sheffey will get his second start of the season.
Watson said things started to click for the line at the Miami game.
"After the Maryland game, we watched the film and noticed we were only one or two blocks away from creating big plays," Watson said. "We ironed things out. We feel if we do our job, no one can stop our zone play. If you do what you're taught and take the right angles, things will open up."
Mozes, who grew up between Pittsburgh and Morgantown, selected West Virginia over Pitt because of the atmosphere. He's eager to play in his first Pitt game. He was on the sidelines last year at Heinz Field when West Virginia pulled out a 24-17 victory.
"It was a nerve-racking game," Mozes said. "It's a game you always want to win."
Mozes said if the Mountaineers can rush for more than 200 yards against Pitt, then there is a good chance West Virginia will prevail.
"Everyone is coming together," Mozes said. "Things started to click when everyone learned their role on the field. We also started playing well when Jeremy took over at center."
Mozes and Hines form a bright future for the Mountaineers.
Hines said Pitt is susceptible to the run.
"Each game is different," Hines said. "I'm sure Pitt will play us differently."
Hines isn't sure what to expect tonight. He didn't attend last year's game.
"You have to play in the game before you can comment about it," Hines said. "I've heard everything about it, and I know what to fully expect."
Watson said: "It's going to be a hard-hitting game. I expect it to be pretty crazy."
|Pittsburgh (4-0 Big East, 7-2 overall) vs. West Virginia (3-1, 5-4)|