By PAT EATON-ROBB
STORRS, Conn. —
Pitt and Connecticut are no longer in the race for a Big East title or a major bowl bid, and will be playing each other today with an urgency that comes from trying to salvage what is left of their seasons.
The Panthers (4-5, 1-3 Big East) are coming off a heartbreaking triple-overtime loss to Notre Dame, a game in which they squandered a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and missed a 33-yard field goal attempt in the second overtime period that would have won the game.
“That was a tough loss, probably the toughest that I’ve played in,” said senior guard Chris Jacobsen. “It’s something that you’ll always remember, too. It’s hard for some young guys, but you have to make a clean slate and focus on other things now.”
Those things include the Huskies (3-6, 0-4). UConn, which finished its non-conference schedule 3-2, has lost all four of its Big East games and finds itself in last place with games against No. 11 Louisville and Cincinnati looming.
“We’re a little frustrated,” said wide receiver Geremy Davis. “But, nobody has quit. We still have something to play for. Everyone’s still looking forward to these next three games.”
The Huskies come into the game ranked ninth in the nation in total defense, but the offense has been abysmal. Connecticut has not scored a touchdown in the second half of a game since the third quarter of its game with Buffalo on Sept. 29. The team is giving up almost three sacks per game and can’t run the football. UConn is averaging just 82 yards rushing and is ranked 110th nationally in total offense.
Running back Lyle McCombs, who ran for more than 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman, has just 547 yards and four scores this season.
“I don’t know why the running game hasn’t worked,” said quarterback Chandler Whitmer. “I think that if we just try to continue and stay balanced and believe in what the coaches are saying that things will improve.”
Pitt’s running game has been working. The Panthers are hoping for another big performance from Ray Graham, who is coming off two consecutive 100-yard games and has 794 yards this season.
Graham suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year’s 35-20 win over the Huskies.
Connecticut must win to keep its very slim bowl hopes alive and avoid its second consecutive losing season. Pitt can still finish the season with a winning record if it can beat UConn, Rutgers and USF. The Panthers are looking for a fifth consecutive bowl bid, but need to avoid a post-Notre Dame letdown to do that.
“We are focused on UConn right now, and we need to win this game before we can think ahead to anything else like a winning season and a bowl game,” said linebacker Todd Thomas. “We want to get there, but we have to win this one first.”
AP freelance writer Dale Grdnic in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.