The Pitt Panthers may need a compass to point its program in the proper direction after firing Dave Wannstedt, then hiring and subsequently firing Mike Haywood within a two week span. It is now up to interim (and former SMU) coach Phil Bennett to keep the boat afloat. Bennett’s opposite in Saturday’s contest held in Birmingham Alabama is Joker Phillips, who has maintained a non-losing record in his first year at the helm after Rich Brooks’ retirement from the Wildcats. It is actually quite a feat considering Kentucky will always be a basketball school competing in the football-crazed Southeastern Conference. Both teams are hovering around a .500 winning percentage and earning a victory would send either down the right path as they enter the off season.
3 Keys from the scouts
1. Maintaining interest. Can Pitt concentrate on this game with everything which has happened in his program in the month it has been off the football field? Outside of the the coaching issues, star receiver Jonathan Baldwin has already declared for the NFL draft. He did so while simultaneously blasting his coaches, team, and offensive scheme. Injuries have also been an issue around this program. On paper Pitt could have been argued as the more talented team entering this season. Now, they may not have enough momentum to defeat a SEC opponent.
2. Be prepared for anything. Bennett has nothing to lose as interim coach of Pitt, that alone makes his gameplanning dangerous. And Kentucky is well known for using their top talents in a myriad of ways. It could prove a combustable scoring situation. The Wildcats Randall Cobb is one of the nation’s best multipurpose threats. He has posted games this season in which he ran or caught the football for 170 yards as the team’s leading receiver and second leading rusher. He can throw the football (3 touchdown passes). He is the team’s return man. He is a dynamic talent. Meanwhile, teammate Derrick Locke is one of the fastest players in the nation. A former track star, Locke has battled injuries throughout his career, but he has combined for over 1000 yards from scrimmage this season.
3. Reclamation. Pitt’s offense have been built around running the football. If they are to succeed in this game, they must do so effectively. It is a task where expectations have not been met this season. Dion Lewis battled through a sophomore slump. Ray Graham is a solid compliment. Yet despite posting nearly 1800 yards combined, the rushing offense still ranks 55th overall in the nation. Those numbers were even skewed by monster efforts against lesser defensive opponents. Lewis may be rounding into form, and Kentucky does not have a strong rush defense. Running the football will open up the entire offense for Pitt, while keeping Kentucky’s own explosive offense on the sideline.
Bold Predictions: Too many emotions are at play in this game. It’s easy to argue that the Pitt players, who all still support the fired Wannstedt, will come out filled with piss and vinegor. It’s just as easy to argue they are likely to lay an egg. It’s hard to gauge at the moment. It’s not hard to understand the talent and consistency Kentucky has over its bowl opponent. The team’s three-headed monster at QB (Hartline), RB (Locke), and WR (Cobb) should prove too much even against Pitt’s top rated defense. Kentucky 28, Pittsburgh 21
|2nd||Jonathan Baldwin||WR||82||3Jr||Tall, game controlling receiver that can be an awesome target yet not as good as people are making him out to be. Expected to enter the draft.|
|2nd||Jabaal Sheard||DE||97||4Sr||Overshadowed defensive lineman with NFL skills. Fluid, easily moves about the field and plays with a nasty attitude. Makes plays in every direction of the field.|
|2-3||Jason Pinkston||T||77||5Sr||Terrific pass blocking tackle who plays with solid fundamentals. Quick and moves well on the field. Work ethic is questioned by some.|
|3rd||Lucas Nix||T||52||3Jr||Underrated tackle prospect that’s used on the right side but seemingly has the athleticism necessary to protect the blind side.|
|4th||Max Gruder||OLB||55||4Jr||Active linebacker that makes plays in every direction.|
|1st||Greg Romeus||DE||91||5Sr||Athletic defender who was a big time prospect. Flashes power, explosion and makes a lot of plays behind the line. One time top prospect now trying to overcome knee surgery after returning from back surgery.|
|6th||Dom DeCicco||S||31||4Sr||Large strong safety prospect who plays the position like a linebacker.|
|3-4||Randall Cobb||WR||18||3Jr||Versatile skill player that impacts the game as a receiver, return specialist or running reverses. Potential number three at the next level. Contemplating entering the draft.|
|5-6||Derrick Locke||RB||20||4Sr||Elusive situational runner for the next level that also impacts the game as a return specialist. Compared to Dexter McCluster by some.|
|7th||Randall Burden||CB||24||4Jr||Nice sized cornerback that fights hard to make plays. Good upside.|
|FA||Ricky Lumpkin||DT||53||5Sr||Flashes power on the inside but lacks natural bulk.|
|FA||DeQuin Evans||DE||55||4Sr||Fluid, one-gap lineman that makes plays in every direction.|
Game Preview: Brent Sobleski
Prospect Preview: Tony Pauline