While it’s been more than two weeks since Pittsburgh’s last game, coach Dave Wannstedt is confident his team is well-prepared for its upcoming contest.
Wannstedt and the Panthers return to the field following a 16-day break, seeking their fifth straight victory Saturday as they visit a Navy squad which resumes play following a similar layoff.
Pittsburgh (4-1) jumped back into the Top 25 with a 26-21 upset at then-No. 10 South Florida on Oct. 2, but the Panthers haven’t played since. The break is their longest since a 19-day hiatus that stemmed from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but Wannstedt isn’t worried that the extra rest will have a negative effect on his team.
“Right now, I think our players are pretty much back to square-one. You hate to say it’s kind of a new season mentality but it is,” said Wannstedt, who’s trying to lead Pittsburgh to its first winning season in his fourth year at the helm.
“Really, I like our team right now from the standpoint that I believe everyone has their feet on the ground and we know the importance of this Navy game.”
Before the Panthers turned their focus to Navy (4-2), they moved back into the rankings thanks to a winning streak that reached four with the victory over South Florida.
Pittsburgh was 25th in the AP preseason poll, but fell out after a home loss to Bowling Green in its opener.
Against the Bulls, LeSean McCoy carried 28 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, while quarterback Bill Stull threw for another as the Panthers improved to 2-0 in Big East play for the first time since 2006 - also the last season in which the team opened 5-1.
McCoy, who turned in a second straight 100-yard performance and the ninth of his brief career, has gained 106.6 yards per game - third-best in the conference and 17th in the nation. He established a Big East freshman rushing record with 1,328 yards last year.
McCoy rushed 32 times for 165 yards and a career high-tying three TDs versus Navy in a 48-45, double-overtime home loss Oct. 10, 2007.
“He is the best tailback we’ve seen,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose team has surrendered 124.5 rushing yards per game. “We are going to have our hands full trying to get him on the ground.”
Navy also boasts a formidable running game, one which gained 331 yards in last year’s win over Pittsburgh.
The Midshipmen are ranked third in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 1,881 rushing yards and second with 313.5 per game. Though they were held to a season-low 206 on Oct. 4, they came away with a 33-27 win at Air Force after blocking two punts and returning them for touchdowns.
Jarod Bryant - filling in for injured quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada - had 24 carries for 101 yards and a TD, while Eric Kettani rushed 22 times for 75 yards for the Midshipmen, winners of three straight.
Like Pitt, Navy is returning from a two-week layoff. Aside from trying to extend their winning streak, the Midshipmen are looking to beat two ranked opponents in a season for the first time since defeating three in 1957.
“We have to make sure we continue to raise the bar,” said Niumatalolo, whose squad beat then-No. 16 Wake Forest on Sept. 27.
Niumatalolo also said Kaheaku-Enhada is questionable for the weekend. He’s been limited to 192 passing and 105 rushing yards one season after setting career highs with 952 and 834, respectively.
Against Pittsburgh, he went 9-for-12 for 166 yards and two TDs, while carrying 25 times for 122 yards and a TD.
Navy had lost four straight to Pittsburgh before last season. The Panthers have won four of their last six at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, but haven’t played there since a 10-6 win on Oct. 24. 1987.
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