Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rich Rodriguez wishes someone would give him dome (aka, "why the Panthers have a shot tonight")

18.5 hours and counting until the 98th edition of the one and only Backyard Brawl. It ain't what it used to be, sure. Players no longer refer to the other team as being filled with "Western Pennsylvania's garbage," and Pitt Stadium public address announcers no longer broadcast to a stadium full of fans that "there is a tractor in the parking lot with its lights on. License plate E-I-E-I-O."

But a rivalry is a rivalry: the war of the words between Hines, Peezy and the Cleveland Browns is in full swing, and both teams are 3-6. Tonight's game still means something to a lot of people, myself included. While Pitt's season was basically over on October 21, West Virginia needs a win to keep their BCS hopes alive. With a victory at Heinz Field tonight and South Florida next weekend, the stage would be set for essentially, a winner-take-all showdown in Morgantown between the Mountaineers and surprise-of-the-year Rutgers.

Screw that, though. I'd rather we drove a stake through the heart of West Virginia's season right now. Pitt are 11.5-point underdogs tonight, and justifiably so. I really don't have a whole lot of faith in this Pitt team, either. While technically it's not really important that they crapped the bed against South Florida and Connecticut, it certainly doesn't instill much faith. However, there is one reason Pitt has a remote chance in this game:


And more rain.

The weather forecast is going to be Pitt's only advantage tonight. The fact that West Virginia's offense is built almost entirely on speed is no great secret. In two of the last three Backyard Brawls, West Virginia blew Pitt out, 52-31 in 2003 and 45-13 last season. They piled up 307 yards and 451 rushing yards, respectively, in those games. Those numbers are not typos. West Virginia's speed running game has made Pitt look downright silly.

However, the other time these two teams have played in the last three years came on Thanksgiving night, 2004. The weather forecast for that day was eerily similar to today's, and by game time, Heinz Field was starting to resemble post-Katrina New Orleans. The Mountaineers still picked up over 200 yards on the ground, but this was primarily because Pitt's effective pass rush rendered Rasheed Marshall's arm mostly ineffective. 104 of West Virginia's rushing yards came from Marshall, many of which were on broken passing plays. West Virginia also fumbled twice, and the Pitt offense did just enough to slog its way to a gritty, 16-13 win that helped Pitt land its only BCS berth ever despite two conference losses, in one of the more bizarre Big East seasons since the beginning of the BCS.

It's true that the sloppy field conditions that night were aided by the WPIAL football championships, four of them, that had taken place on the field the previous weekend, a factor that won't have an effect this go-round because those games are being played this coming weekend. However, Rich Rodriguez, best thing to ever happen to the Big East, in his infinite wisdom ordered his team to practice inside all week long. Dave Wannstedt, on the other hand, had the Panthers practicing outdoors at their facility on the South Side all week long.

Rodriguez further proved to be a disgrace to the concept of the sport of football by stating his desire to play indoors ALL the time:

"You know, if I had my personal preference ... in the ideal world, if somebody wants to give out a whole bunch of millions of dollars to West Virginia, we'd have a dome over ours. With a roof. So, if we had wet weather or cold weather, we'd just close that dome up and have a fast surface."

A dome WITH a roof. Thus completely destroying the whole point of football being a cold-weather sport.

Another factor that could conceivably be a difference is that Tyler Palko is a much better quarterback today than he was in 2004. The Pitt running game boasts much more skill than it did in 2004. The receiving corps is much deeper than it was in 2004. In short, Pitt has narrowed the talent gap between itself and West Virginia, at least offensively. Whether the weather plus Pitt's more competent offense is enough to overcome West Virginia is to be seen.

My prediction: Pitt makes a game of it, but West Virginia is still just too talented to lose a game like this. 28-24, Mountaineers.

Make me wrong, Tyler Palko & co.

1 comment:

Health Blog said...

Thus completely destroying the whole point
of football being a cold-weather sport.