Pittsburgh vs. UConn: Panthers Must Avoid Letdown to Keep Bowl Hopes Alive

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIINovember 9, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 03: Ray Graham #1 of the Pittsburgh Panthers runs for a long gain against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on November 3, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Pittsburgh 29-26 in triple overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

After coming agonizingly close to upsetting Notre Dame before falling short in three overtimes, it's crucial that the Pittsburgh Panthers avoid a letdown on the road against UConn to keep its bowl hopes alive.

It's a quick turnaround for Paul Chryst's team, and they must recover quickly from what would have been a signature win for the Pitt program.

The Panthers have been pretty much on track since a blowout loss at Cincinnati in the second game of the season. That capped off an 0-2 start that took some digging to get out of, but resulted in a blowout victory over then-No. 13 Virginia Tech the next week.

Since then, the three losses Pitt has suffered came at Syracuse by one point, at home to undefeated Louisville by 10 points and of course this past Saturday's nail-biter in South Bend.

Paul Pasqualoni has struggled in taking over for former Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall, but what can be said of his first two years is that the Huskies are competitive in nearly every game. Aside from a blowout loss to the Orange at the Carrier Dome, UConn lost by two possessions to Rutgers and haven't lost any other game by more than seven points.

Perhaps this Big East matchup would be more exciting on a basketball court, where the two have developed an increasingly heated rivalry in recent years.

But these are two football programs that compete extremely hard and will definitely provide an entertaining, physical game on Friday night.

Speaking of which, the Panthers will have to continue their strategy against the Irish of feeding Ray Graham early and often. The running back came under fire last week in the midst of an assault charge (h/t ESPN), but responded on gameday with 172 yards rushing at 7.2 yards per carry and a touchdown.

The Huskies have the 21st-ranked rush defense in the country, so something will have to give in that area—and it will likely be the deciding factor in the game.

One of the most widely-read Connecticut football blogs gave its simple, humorous assessment of how the Pitt game will play itself out on Twitter:


Our 5 cents: we predict pain. Watch soccer instead. RT @pittpantherblog: Pitt-UConn: Cardiac Hill staff predictions sbn.to/SQWg0m

— TheUConnBlog (@theuconnblog) November 9, 2012


The home team has been plagued by a minus-11 turnover ratio as well, thanks to erratic decision-making by QB Chandler Whitmer. He has thrown 13 interceptions on the season. In spite of that, UConn has battled fiercely to stay in every contest in 2012.

If Whitmer can limit his mistakes, the Huskies could find themselves playing spoiler to Pitt's postseason aspirations.

All of those factors make this seemingly meaningless off night game between sub-.500 teams a must-watch affair.

Sometimes you are what you are in terms of record, but the Panthers are better than their 4-5 record indicates. They are definitely a bowl-caliber team, but with remaining games against Rutgers and at South Florida, they will need to post a solid win against the Huskies—who are also better than their 3-6 mark.