By WILL GRAVES
Pittsburgh’s rude welcome to the ACC by conference bully Florida State two weeks ago is firmly in the rearview.
If the Panthers want to bounce back from the nationally televised 41-13 thrashing, it better be.
New Mexico (1-1) will present a very different problem for Pitt when the Lobos visit Heinz Field today. Where the Seminoles went to the air over and over and over again while moving the ball at will, New Mexico takes a decidedly more primitive approach under former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie.
The Lobos rely heavily on an option attack that features the nation’s leading rusher and an offense gaining confidence with every snap. Davie has revived a nearly dormant program in little over a year. The Lobos won more games (four) in 2012 than they did in the previous three seasons combined.
Davie has done it by grinding away at opposing defenses with a persistent ground game. Running back Kasey Carrier put up 291 yards rushing in a 42-35 win over UTEP last week and could get an even heavier workload against the Panthers.
“He’s a unique player,” Davie said of Carrier. “We’ve all heard that old (adage) that guys get better the more you play them, and I think Kasey is an example of that. You see when he gets into a rhythm he gets a really good feel for things.”
New Mexico (1-1) vs. Pitt (0-1)
When: 12:30 this afternoon.
Where: Heinz Field.
TV: WTAE, ACC Network.
Radio: WQZS 93.3 FM, KDKA 93.7 FM, WCRO 1230 AM, NEWS/TALK 1310 AM.
If Pitt wants to avoid the upset and an 0-2 start for the second straight year under Paul Chryst, it will need to find a way to get Carrier to the ground. Getting stops against the Seminoles was a problem. While Chryst allows today will be a “very different game” the Panthers must improve defensively if they want to get New Mexico out of its comfort zone.
“At some point we’re still going to have to tackle,” Chryst said. “At some point we’re still going to be in a situation where we have to make a play.”
Five things to look for as the Panthers try to ruin Davie’s homecoming. Davie grew up in Moon Township just west of Pittsburgh and spent three seasons coaching linebackers for the Panthers from 1980-1982:
Let Savage be Savage: Pitt quarterback Tom Savage’s first game showed bits of rustiness but also more than its share of potential. The former Rutgers star completed 15 of 28 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown against two interceptions. He quickly developed a rapport with wide receiver Devin Street (six receptions, a career-high 141 yards) and has impressed Chryst with his ability to get the ball downfield. The easiest way force New Mexico out of its gameplan is to jump on the Lobos early.
Kasey cases ’em: Carrier broke out a year ago, running for 1,498 yards after missing the 2011 season with a knee injury. He’s taken another step forward this fall. Facing a defense loaded to stop him, Carrier ran it 41 times against UTEP and scored four touchdowns. Pitt will crowd the line of scrimmage to stop Carrier, but New Mexico will keep feeding their senior captain so long as the game remains close.
New streak?: Davie’s nickname in his new job is “Streak Buster.” The victory at UTEP last week was the program’s first win in the state of Texas in 16 years. Now the Lobos will look for consecutive road victories for the first time since 2007. The run-heavy game plan – if effective – will take what may be a subdued crowd out of the game completely.
Boyd’s breakthrough: The Panthers may have found the heir apparent to Street in freshman Tyler Boyd. The wide receiver/kick returner was the most electric player on the field at times in the loss to Florida State, making something happen every time he touched the ball. Chryst would like to get him more involved in the passing game against the Lobos.
Staying disciplined: Pitt’s defense, which ranked 17th nationally in 2012, was exposed against the Seminoles. New Mexico lacks Florida State’s athleticism – most programs do – but the Lobos make up for it with perfect execution. The Panthers – who lost to a similar-type attack by Youngstown State a year ago – can’t get frustrated if New Mexico stays in the game early.