WVU Gameday: Mitch's matchups
The comparison between Pitt's Tino Sunseri and WVU's Geno Smith is close in one regard: completion percentage. Smith is completing 64.5 percent, while Sunseri is hitting 63.7. Otherwise, Smith is clearly superior -- in pass efficiency rating (151.5-125.3), in interceptions thrown (5-8), in passing yards (3,497-2,037), passing touchdowns (24-9) and average passing yards per game (349.7-203.7).
This was no contest when Pitt's Ray Graham was healthy. He entered the Connecticut game as the nation's No. 2 rusher before suffering a right knee injury. Now it's more interesting. Zach Brown, a 5-10, 220-pound senior, and freshman Isaac Bennett, 5-11, 190, are splitting the duties for the Panthers. Ditto WVU via Dustin Garrison, Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie.
Pitt's Devin Street, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound sophomore, has emerged as a playmaker, necessary to the team since Cam Saddler was injured and lost for the season. Street had six catches for 101 yards, his third 100-yard receiving game this season, against Louisville. Mike Shanahan, 6-5, is also a threat. But West Virginia's unit of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney is better.
This set up as a split decision. Pittsburgh's offensive line, led by 6-4, 295-pound left tackle Greg Gaskins, is pushing for more average rushing yards than WVU (158-117). But the Mountaineers, led by center Joe Madsen, were allowing fewer sacks on average (2.1-4.4). Pitt's line, though, pushed for 200 yards versus a tough Louisville front. WVU's front pushed for 32 and allowed five sacks versus Cincy.
West Virginia defensive tackle Julian Miller, 6-4, 259 pounds, had one of his best games against Cincinnati and he was rewarded by being named the Big East's Defensive player of the Week. But Pitt, led by 6-5, 285-pound tackle Chas Alecxih, has the better defensive front. The Panthers are faring better against the run (122.6-135.9 average yards) and are sacking the QB more consistently.
WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel seems to be searching everywhere for linebacker support for standout Najee Goode, who sparkled in the Cincinnati game. He's trying true freshman Jared Barber, among others. Pitt, though, is likewise trying to find support for weak-side linebacker Max Gruder, who is leading the team with 90 tackles. Kind of a tossup at this spot.
West Virginia is a solid winner in this comparison. Cornerback Keith Tandy, who has three interceptions, is leading a unit that's in the top 30 nationally in pass efficiency. Pittsburgh, led by sophomore cornerback K'Waun Williams, isn't bad in the statistic, but the unit is allowing 233 passing yards a game, while the Mountaineers are allowing 203. Pitt has six interceptions, while WVU has 10.
In a season marred by special teams gaffes, WVU's Tavon Austin has been a bright spot. He's one of the nation's top punt returners (averaging 14.83 yards). Pitt's Ronald Jones is averaging 7 punt return yards. WVU has been better in punt returns, kickoff returns, kick scoring, field goals and on-side kicks against. Pitt has been better in the punting game, kickoff coverage and PATs.