Pittsburgh vs. Kentucky
Birmingham, Ala., Legion Field
Saturday, January 8, 2011 12:00 PM ET ESPN
Laying the scene
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Largely considered the favorite to win the Big East Championship this season, Pitt has vastly underachieved considering the amount of talent that is on its roster. In fact, coach Dave Wannstedt has not exactly lived up to the expectations he faced in 2005 when he took over as head coach. Coach Wannstedt resigned in December, reportedly under pressure, following this year's 7-5 regular season record. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will coach the team in the bowl game.
Kentucky couldn't quite compete with the rest of the SEC, relying on four out of conference games to secure a 6-6 record and thus a trip to a bowl game. First year coach Joker Phillips, though, has led his team to a bowl game for the fifth consecutive year after taking over for Rich Brooks following his retirement. This will mark the first meeting between the two teams.
(Note: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting, citing unnamed sources, that running back Dion Lewis is expected to announce sometime after the bowl game that he will forego his final two seasons of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft.)
What Pittsburgh has to do to win
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Pittsburgh has not exactly lived up to the expectations on offense, averaging less than 370 yards per game and 27 points per game. Lewis and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin are the two most recognizable names on the Pitt offensive roster, but running back Ray Graham and wide receiver Mike Shanahan are also effective weapons for quarterback Tino Sunseri. Pitt has generally won the time of possession battle this season, ranking 11th in the nation with an average time of possession of 32:23 per game. Despite Wildcats quarterback Mike Hartline's suspension, this Kentucky offense is able to score some points, so running the ball well and playing tough defense to win the clock battle will be key to coming away with the win in this game.
What Kentucky has to do to win
Quarterback Mike Hartline has been suspended for the bowl game following a December 10 arrest, leaving Morgan Newton to start the game for the Wildcats. Newton has attempted only seven passes this season, but was the starter for the final eight games in 2009 when Hartline went down with an injury. The Wildcats will turn to running back Derrick Locke despite Newton coming into the game with some degree of experience. Locke has rushed for 816 yards this season, missing four games after suffering an injury in the Auburn game.
To take pressure off of Newton, whom the 9th ranked Pitt defense will attempt to force to win the game through the air, Locke and the ground game has to gel, while wide receiver Randall Cobb has to help the young quarterback in the passing game. Cobb is the team's leading receiver with 79 receptions for 955 yards and seven touchdowns, and is the second leading rusher with 401 yards and five touchdowns. Look for Chris Matthews to be used as well, perhaps on a few deep play action passes as the Wildcats look to catch the Panthers off guard.
Kentucky. Pitt has gone through a lot in the last few weeks with Wannstedt resigning and then choosing not to coach in the bowl game. To make matters worse, Mike Haywood, who was named Wannesdedt's successor on December 16, was arrested on New Year's Eve and was dismissed the following day as head coach, so the coaching search continues in Pittsburgh. The biggest question for the Panthers in the short-term will be how this coaching turnover and turmoil will affect the players mentally heading into this game. Locke and Cobb will be the keys to a Kentucky win and despite a strong Pitt defense, and should have big games in the BBVA Compass Bowl. - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.
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