Editor's note: Don't miss out on winners for the side and total in Christian Alexander's pick pack for tonight!
Pitt (5-3, 3-0 Big East) vs. Connecticut (4-4, 1-2 Big East)
7:45 PM ESPN
Rentschler Stadium (Natural Grass)
Sports.com Line: Pitt 5.5 O/U 46.5
After two weeks in ACC country – and unsuccessful ones for this prognosticator – we’re jumping conferences and heading into the northeast to check out some Big East play. Hopefully the change of scenery will do me some good!
After losing to Notre Dame by a score of 17-23 on October 9, the Pitt Panthers were just 2-3. This was not at all the start that many had predicted for coach Dave Wannstedt’s program, which was by far and away the consensus pick to win the Big East.
But then Big East play started and like a light being turned on, the Panthers came to life. Just over a month removed from that loss to the Irish, Pitt finds itself as the lone undefeated team in the Big East and is trying to achieve a 4-0 conference start for the second straight year.
However, while Pitt is cruising along in the Big East – as many predicted – the way they are winning isn’t the formula most anticipated. After his breakout freshman season, everyone assumed Pitt would ride RB Dion Lewis to victory this season. That hasn’t quite been the case.
Pitt RB Ray Graham was thought of by many as an understudy to Lewis. But when Lewis got off to a slow start, Wannstedt have Graham more chances and the back delivered. The talented backs are joined by first-year starting QB Tino Sunseri, who seems to be improving and getting more comfortable with his role every week. Sunseri will try to get the ball as often as possible to his playmaking WR, Jon Baldwin.
Of course, it’s not all offense as the Pitt defense has really tightened down over the past month. During its current three-game winning streak, Pitt has outscored its opponents 106 to 38 (an average of 35.3 to 12.7) and you certainly don’t achieve those type of numbers without a strong defense. The Panthers are particularly nasty against the rush, allowing just a hair over 93 yards per game on the ground to rank first in the Big East and eighth nationally.
That run-stopping unit will get a test tonight when they travel to Rentschler Stadium to face the Connecticut Huskies. With all due respect to Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, it’s UConn’s Jordan Todman who is stealing the show in the Big East. Todman leads the conference and ranks fourth nationally with 136.29 rushing yards per game.
At 4-4 and 1-2 in conference, this season has been a roller-coaster for coach Randy Edsall. That said, the Huskies are feeling pretty good about themselves after knocking off West Virginia last weekend, 16-13. It doesn’t take a code breaker to figure out the pattern for UConn this season. The Huskies are winless on the road and a perfect 4-0 at home. The competition has generally been tougher on the road for Edsall and his program but that certainly wasn’t the case last weekend when the Huskies knocked off the Mountaineers .
The key for UConn in this one is to limit the Pitt ground game and establish a potent rushing attack of its own. QB Mike Box (concussion) probably won’t play in this one as Edsall will likely turn to QB Zach Frazer, who had a nice game against WVU.
That formula is probably the exact same one that Pitt wants to employ and so it’s pretty simply to understand that whoever does the best job running the ball while limiting the opponent’s ground attack will probably come out ahead this Thursday night.
Pitt is 1-2 when playing Connecticut at Rentschler Field and overall this is the seventh meeting between the two schools with the series being tied, 3-3. Pitt won last year in dramatic fashion at Heinz Field after trailing 21-6 with less than four minutes left in the third quarter. However, the home team rallied to win on a field-goal as time ran out and the 15-point comeback was the largest in coach Dave Wannstedt's five years at Pitt.
The Panthers have been a strong option this year at the betting window with a 4-1 record against the spread. UConn hasn’t been nearly as profitable with a 3-4 ATS mark.