Game Preview: Rutgers at Pittsburgh

Mark Harrison

PITTSBURGH – No. 19 Rutgers can do something it has never done in a century and a half of college football tomorrow against Pittsburgh. The Scarlet Knights can win a share of the Big East championship. Following a historic announcement to join the Big Ten, Rutgers has momentum on its side and a more than realistic shot at the Orange Bowl heading into the final two games of the season.

No. 19 Rutgers (9-1, 5-0) at Pittsburgh (4-6, 1-4)


Time: 12 noon, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
TV/Radio: ESPN 2, 710-WOR, 1450-AM, 610-WIP, 88.7 WRSU
Series: Series tied 21-8
Last meeting: Oct. 8, 2011, Rutgers won 34-10
Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (1st Season, 9-1); Pittsburgh – Paul Chryst (1st season, 4-6)

Storyline Central

  • Just Trying to Be 1-0 -- Rutgers has about as many distractions as possible for its matchup with the struggling Panthers. Two days after Thanksgiving, two weeks after a devastating hurricane and in the wake of a historic announcement to join the Big Ten, focusing on winning now was the talking point in practice this week. This is the same Pittsburgh team that took No. 1 Notre Dame to the black and the Scarlet Knights will need a complete effort to win.

  • Making History -- Rutgers football has never won a share of the Big East title. Beating Pittsburgh does this. Yes, the game tomorrow is close to meaningless in terms of a BCS berth (Rutgers likely must beat Louisville Thursday night), but a win locks up a least a share of the conference title, something never done by any Rutgers coach. Louisville is a heavy favorite over Connecticut tomorrow, but a Cardinals loss and Rutgers win also locks up a trip to Miami, Fla., for the Scarlet Knights.

  • Sibling Rivalry -- Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene and Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham face off for the final time at the college level. Greene and Graham are half-brothers, and both Elizabeth, N.J., natives. Greene enters the game as the Big East leading tackler and top contender for Defensive Player of the year. Graham, coming back from a torn knee ligament, leads Pitt with 835 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

Matchup to Watch
Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene vs. Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham.

What else? Greene and Graham are bound to collide multiple times tomorrow. Stopping Graham is huge, especially with anticipated ugly conditions at Heinz Field. Graham has 219 yards and two touchdowns on 41 career rushing attempts against the Scarlet Knights, whereas Greene has 21 tackles, three TFLs and 2.5 sacks against the Panthers in three games.

Scarlet Knights Win If…
They win the ground battle. Rutgers pits its two-headed attack against Pittsburgh and needs strong runs out of both Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins at running back. Jamison is approaching 100 percent and Huggins comes off a career day against Cincinnati. Facing cold, wet conditions on a beat up field, Rutgers must out-tough the Panthers.

RB Savon Huggins
Panthers Win If …
Sunseri steps up Graham and Rushel Shell will get their yards, especially in ground and pound conditions, but Pittsburgh can really take things to the next level if Sunseri is on form. Rutgers has had success shutting him down in past meetings but the senior has just two interceptions and a 67 percent completion clip.





KICKOFF PRIMER

Impact Player
QB Gary Nova — Nova has come a long way since making his first career start against Pitt last season. Rutgers has more firepower than Pittsburgh but a greater propensity for turnovers. If Nova runs the game plan efficiently while protecting the football, the Scarlet Knights likely leave Heinz Field with a share of the conference title.

QB Gary Nova
Something to Prove
P Justin Doerner — Doerner's inconsistencies continue to put Rutgers at a disadvantage in the field position battle. His yards per punt are down from last season and kicks inside the 20 will be down significantly from last year unless something changes in the final three contests.

Looking to Build
WR Mark Harrison — Harrison returned to his big-play ways last week with his 71-yard score against Cincinnati. Harrison is one of the best options for Rutgers in stretching the field and is the best at going up and getting a ball in the red zone.

Freshman to Watch
DT Darius Hamilton — Hamilton continues to earn more responsibility on the defensive line. Expect a heavy rotation inside against the tough Pittsburgh offensive line. Rutgers needs quality reps out of Hamilton behind starter Jamil Merrell at defensive tackle.



ScarletReport.com Prediction: 24-14 Rutgers

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