Question #1: What is your favorite Backyard Brawl moment?
Pitt Blather: 1997 in Morgantown remains my favorite live game to attend.The plays. The drama. The excitement. The multiple overtimes. The hope it reignited in the program. Pitt getting bowl eligible for the first time in years. It probably is my favorite Backyard Brawl game.
But to isolate a moment, well I’ll go to the end of the 2004 Backyard Brawl after Pitt had beaten WVU 16-13. The on-the-field, post-game interview with Walt Harris. Everything that was swirling around him with his future. His agent’s stupid comments earlier in the season. The administration prepared to let him walk. Lots of all that drama. Yet, there was Harris around the celebrating players and the normally wooden Harris was clearly elated. He was asked about winning the Big East, and going to a BCS Bowl if Syracuse could beat BC on Saturday. And he practically shouted, “Go, Paul!” (As in soon to be fired Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni.) Just something about that moment has always been one of my favorites.
The Fighting Wannstaches: There have been some good ones over the years that we remember, like Pistol Pete’s TD pass on 4th-17 triple OT for the win back in 1997. That was really the first Brawl we can remember winning. But there is really only one answer to this question, and that’s the 100th edition of the Backyard Brawl down in Morgantown where Pitt went in and beat both the Mountaineers and the officials that day 13-9! We can still watch the tear-filled Rich Rodriguez press conference after the game and get chills listening to the Pitt players in the background.
Pitt Script: So many to choose from, but it’s tough to say anything but 13-9. To me, that game was the definition of rivalry. In a game that meant nothing to Pitt other than getting to a measly 5 wins, Pitt won a game that meant everything to the Mountaineers. WVU had superior talent, scheme and motivation but for one night, they lacked heart. Pitt got nothing but off-season momentum and a nice recruiting tool, but it was THE defining win of the program and — current struggles aside — began Pitt’s ascent back into relevancy. It was a sloppy game, but I can watch it over and over again.
4-1-Zoo: I was at 13-9 in Morgantown, so it’s hard to pick any other game. I do love the memory of Darelle Revis returning a punt for a score after a freight-train block by Derek Kinder. I also appreciate the Tyler Palko hurdle of Pacman Jones. But to ruin the Mountaineers national championship hopes and keep the WVU fans from driving their houses south to that game was pure bliss.
Question #2 In your mind, is this the main rivalry for Pitt? Or is it still Penn State?
Pitt Blather: No question. Not just because Pitt and Penn State don’t play any longer. The Brawl has gotten bigger and more meaningful in the Big East post-2004. Add in both teams competing fiercely in basketball as well, and there is no question to me.
At this point the only time Pitt and Penn State seem to compete is with recruiting. That isn’t quite the same.
The Fighting Wannstaches: WVU without a doubt has become the main rivalry. It’s been over 10 years now since Pitt last played Penn State, and the students at both schools probably schools probably couldn’t even tell you the score of the last game (12-0!). One of those students, Penn State QB Matt McGloin, even tweeted during the Pitt/UConn game that he was cheering for Pitt. That is a sign that the rivalry is officially gone.
For the Pitt fans in their later twenties and older, they will always remember the Penn State rivalry (P-E-N-N-S-T…), but the Backyard Brawl is the reason we wake up with a smile our our face this week, the reason records do not matter this week, and the reason Rich Rodriguez ended up in Michigan and Les Miles stayed at LSU.
Pitt Script: Hard to say. I have a feeling that if Pitt and Penn State renewed the rivalry then it would instantly become the second biggest rivalry in the Union behind The Game. There’s just so much history there. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine anyone under the age of 30 really having the same kind of hatred for Penn State that fueled the rivalry in the 70s and 80s. There’s only one way to find out, I suppose.
4-1-Zoo: West Virginia, but that’s because I’m 23 years old. If my father were running this blog it would be Penn State. Unfortunately I’m part of the generation that somehow bears beings that root for both Pitt and Penn State. It makes no sense. But I haven’t met and Panthers/Mountaineers combo fan yet, so I’d have to say WVU, hands down.
Question #3: Where do you rank this rivalry among the top rivalries in college football?
Pitt Blather: More meaningful and important than Kansa. -K-State or the Land Grant Trophy, that much is certain. Regional bias makes it hard to fairly say. To me it is up there with the best.
The thing that keeps it from ranking with the Iron Bowl, Michigan-OSU, Red River Shootout, USC-ND and such is that it just has not featured both teams ranked nationally at the same time in ages. That hurts the impact, and thus how it is perceived nationally.
The Fighting Wannstaches: Historically, It’s definitely a great college rivalry, going into its 103rd edition this week. However, it doesn’t draw the national attention than an Alabama/Auburn or a Michigan/Ohio State does. For that to happen, both teams would need to consistently be ranked and that’s usually not the case. But it is what it is, a great rivalry for the schools and for the conference, plus it’s on the national TV the day after Thanksgiving so people are going to watch.
Pitt Script: Tough to say. In the old days — when Northeast football was more relevant than due to it being the center of the TV universe, I’d imagine it was near the top. Now, with so many different channels and the internet, people can watch The Civil War, The Holy War, Florida-FloridaSt. and every Texas-A&M-Tech-Okla-OklaSt. combination game, so those kind of things take on more interest if the teams playing in them are good. The best thing for the rivalry would be for both teams to enter the game ranked with the Big East on line — in other words, what should have happened this year.
4-1-Zoo: It’s up there, even though many from a national perspective probably don’t see it that way. I honestly don’t know a rivalry that has more hate involved aside from Ohio State-Michigan. Others seem to have a level of respect that I just don’t feel in the Backyard Brawl.
And I love that.
Question #4: What must happen for Pitt to win?
Pitt Blather: The offense has to actually score when they get in the redzone. They have to be aggressive and finish drives. Wannstedt talks of eliminating mistakes. It seems more that the whole offense tightens up when they get close. They are now so afraid of making a mistake that will kill the drive — from the players to the coaches — that it becomes self-fulfilling.
The Fighting Wannstaches: If ever there was a time to play a complete game, this week is it. WVU has a tough defense, so that doesn’t leave much room for error. Tino is going to have to be on top of his game. There can be no sluggish start, no mistakes that have to be cleaned up afterwards, and no special teams gaffes. But most importantly, Pitt has to “play to win” for 60 minutes…not “play not to lose.”
Pitt Script: Tough question. The standard answer would be to play a complete game, since that lofty goal has eluded this team as of late. It’s a bit cliche, but Pitt has beat Pitt so many times this season. So if Pitt can go without shooing themselves in the foot, whether it’s allowing a 220 yard rusher or 5 pass interference calls, Pitt has a chance to beat this team. However, there is a solid amount of scary good athletes on WVU’s defense and Pitt will need to somehow move the ball on a five defensive back defense that is surprisingly good against the run.
4-1-Zoo: Limit mistakes. Turnovers, special teams blunders, missed assignments, etc. will determine the winner. Both teams are very strong defensively and very inconsistent offensively. It will come down to who is the most responsible.
Question #5: Predictions…
Pitt Blather: The losing coach will be facing huge criticism and backlash. Even more pointed questions about the direction of the program, their coaching acumen, and generally their ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.
In this case, I’ll say that coach will be from West Virginia as Pitt takes the game 24-19.
The Fighting Wannstaches: One word…EPIC. 21-20 Pitt.
Pitt Script: I’m an optimist so I’ll say 17-13 in a sloppy game. Geno Smith looks more like he did against UConn than against Cincinnati and has a rough outing with a pass-rush in his face all day. Sunseri has a unspectacular, but solid day completing short, quick passes. Dion looks like the Dion of old, grinding out yardage with an occasional big run. Add in a UConn loss (they’re due) as this weekend’s pumpkin pie and I’ll be one happy Pitt fan.
4-1-Zoo: 17-9, Pitt. The Panthers do enough on offense and get a defensive touchdown that is the difference. Also, I predict the game to feel very odd with the new jerseys. Approximately none will be sold.
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog