December 1, 2007. I can still remember it like it was yesterday.
As a lifelong West Virginia sports fan, this day was supposed to be the best day of my sports life. The day that I was finally going to see the Mountaineers punch their ticket to the first National Championship Game of my lifetime. They had moved up to the No. 2 team in the country after LSU lost to Arkansas the week before.
Making my way through the blue lot to find my usual tailgate spot, I couldn't help but feel a completely different buzz in the air that I had never experienced before. Once I settled in and started talking to some friends about the game, I began feeling a whole new kind of buzz. Let's just say it wasn't a good one.
It went from a "we're gonna go to the National Title game" buzz to a "maybe we're a little too confident and now I have a bad feeling about this" buzz.
But I mean come on, we're playing Pitt. Pitt.
They weren't even supposed to get to go to a bowl game this year. There's no way we can mess this thing up.
A few hours, two missed Pat McAfee field goals, and a half-mile walk back to the car later and my dad and I turned the radio on just in time to hear Rich Rodriguez (cough, cough, TRAITOR, cough, cough) saying, "It was just a nightmare, the whole thing was just a nightmare."
There's no other word that could describe, that's one thing that that jerk got right that night. The only thing I could say the whole trip home was, "How could this happen?"
Since that night, other than WVU's big Fiesta Bowl win a couple weeks later when the team rallied around our interim coach Bill Stewart to run through a much more talented Oklahoma team, things have turned about as close to 180 degrees as they could get as we head into the 102nd edition of the most intense rivalry in the Big East.
Like in 2007, it's still an unranked team trying to spoil a top-ten team's BCS chances, but now the Mountaineers are aiming to stop (s)Pitt from winning their first Big East title since 2004, when they were in a four-way tie with West Virginia, Boston College, and Syracuse.
So, in honor of the Backyard Brawl, let's break this bad boy down Dr. Jack style.
If you would've asked me after the first two weeks of the season who I would rather have between Jarrett Brown and Bill Stull, I really might have laughed in your face before taking Brown. But as the year has unfolded, something has altered my way of thinking about this.
Over and over again, with the exception of the Cincinnati game a couple weeks ago, JB has broken down in big situations when the team needed him the most. He has 8 picks this year, and five of those came in their losses to Auburn (4) and South Florida (1).
Stull has thrown four picks all season and earlier this year led the Panthers back from a 21-6 deficit to come away with a 24-21 win.
With that said, the verdict is...
This week's matchup features not only two of the best backs in the Big East, but two of the top rushers in the nation.
Pitt's freshman running back Dion Lewis is ninth in the country with 1,291 yards while Noel Devine has run for 1,098 in his junior campaign.
First off, as a Mountaineer fan, just let me say that I am scared to death of what Dion Lewis is able to do. He has a great mix of speed and elusiveness. When he gets into the open field he is very, very tough to bring down. But, we'll be going more into why I'm so afraid of him in a little bit.
Devine is even faster and more elusive than Lewis. Now I know that this phrase has been overused for a few years now, but whenever Noel touches the ball, you know that there is a chance he could be taking it to the house.
Of all of the match ups involved in this game, this could be the most even of them all. But, in the end, I have to go with the back that has more experience.
Edge: West Virginia
Behind every great quarterback is a good group of receivers for them to throw the ball to. In this game, that's exactly what we have, two solid receiving corps.
West Virginia brings into this Backyard Brawl one of the most balanced groups of pass-catching threats that we have had in years. Junior Jock Sanders leads the group with 62 catches (2nd in the Big East). Senior Alric Arnett and sophomore Brad Starks have both started coming along as of late as well.
Pitt also brings into the game one of the most dynamic receiving duos in the conference. Sophomore Jonathan Baldwin and senior Dorin Dickerson have combined for 83 catches, 1336 yards, and 15 of Bill Stull's 18 touchdowns on the year.
Along with those two, Oderick Turner has continued to play well for the Panthers and Dion Lewis has also emerged a threat in the passing game.
Edge: Pitt (Barely)
Both offensive lines have done a relatively nice job protecting their respective teams.
The one big difference between these two units is experience. West Virginia's offensive line only brought back one starter from last season (Selvish Capers) and one guy who played a lot when center Mike Dent went down with injury (Eric Jobe).
Other than those two, the line starts a sophomore and two freshmen. And like you would expect with a line with that little experience, there have been a few bumps along the way.
Pitt's line brought back a sophomore, two juniors, and two seniors. With the players on the Pitt unit having their fair share of experience, they were able to come along a lot quicker at the beginning of the year and have done a great job giving Stull his time to pass, as well as opening lanes for Lewis to emerge as one of the nation's top backs.
So after the offensive half of the breakdown, Pitt has the advantage 3-1. Not looking good right now.
Defensive Line and Linebackers:
Before the 2009 season started, the defensive line and linebackers was supposed to be the anchor of WVU's defense. With Scooter Berry and Reed Williams returning, a lot of fans expected for this to definitely be one of the team's major strengths.
Then, the worst thing that could happen to this group did happen. Berry and Williams both went down with injuries. Then they had to turn to Julian Miller, Chris Neild, and J.T. Thomas to lead the group.
And for the most part they've done a nice job of it. Throw in linebackers Ovid Goulbourne and Anthony Leonard and defensive lineman Josh Taylor and the Mountaineer's have ended up looking pretty good this year.
Pitt is going to bring to the game a group of defensive linemen that can only be rivaled by South Florida for the best group in the Big East. Junior Greg Romeus has the talent to go into the draft after this season and Jabaal Sheard can be thrown into that same group as well. Along with those two, you can throw in Mick Williams (defensive tackle) and the WVU offensive line are sure to have their hands full Friday night.
Like WVU, Pitt's linebackers have had to battle through injuries (Shane Murray and Adam Gunn). And like the WVU O-Line, Pitt's group of linebackers are pretty inexperienced.
The group has two sophomores, and a senior who is coming off of a broken neck. And by the way, that senior is playing linebacker for the first time.
Defensive Line Edge: Pitt
Linebacker Edge: WVU
Well, West Virginia starts Keith Tandy at corner, and after watching him against South Florida a few weeks back, he needs to do a lot to convince me he should be out there.
However, even though the Mountaineers seem to have one of the weakest pass defenses in the Big East, if not the country (this coming from a fan who is just a little bit upset ), they aren't doing bad considering their best cornerback (Brandon Hogan) and one of their top safeties (Nate Sowers) as well as a few others that see time at DB, played quarterback in high school.
But that still doesn't excuse how much they've gotten torn apart this season by just about every quarterback they've faced.
Pitt came into the season with the top crop of defensive backs in the Big East, and they have lived up to that.
Elijah Fields and Dom DiCicco have two picks each and Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel have played a great role in the pass defense.
Both of these teams have solid return games, but in the end it's West Virginia's abysmal coverage that influenced this pick.
HUGE Edge: Pitt
On one side you have Dave Wannstedt. Along with being the former coach of the Miami Dolphins, Wanny is known for sporting one of the greatest mustaches in all of college sports.
The other side is Bill Stewart, the man who gave all of Mountaineer Nation hope after the loss of both a national title and their head coach when he led the team to a Fiesta Bowl win.
I don't know how good Wannstedt is at motivating and giving speeches, but if you can watch Stew's speech before the Fiesta Bowl and not be ready to go out and win some football, you might not have a soul.
Go ahead and watch it, I'll wait....
Good stuff right. Well, but when it all comes down to it, Stew just doesn't quite measure up to Wannstedt as far as actually being a coach.
The Fan Factor:
The game is in Morgantown this year, which we all know means it going to be rowdy and there's about a 99.999 percent chance that there will be a fight if a Pitt student steps foot in the WVU student section.
We could be a little out of line at times, but when you put it all on the table, Mountaineer fans are and have always been extremely loyal to the team. This of course, is not supposed to take anything away from Pitt fans but this game is at home and I really believe that there will be a significant home field advantage this season.
The final score of the breakdown was Pitt coming away with the win 7-3.
When it's all said and done tomorrow night, I think that Pitt will come away with the win. They just have a better team this year and with the instability that the defense has showed up to this point, Dion Lewis and company could have a huge game.
Final Score: 31-17 Pitt
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