Although Pittsburgh and Syracuse have started to separate themselves from a crowded pack in the race for the 2010 BIG EAST championship, every league team remains in the hunt for the conference title as the November home stretch approaches.
The Panthers, at 3-0, stand as the only unbeaten team in BIG EAST play, but the fact that every other team has at least one league win leaves Pittsburgh with just a two-game cushion from the five teams currently tied for fourth. Syracuse, at 3-1 after winning back-to-back games, is right behind Pittsburgh, but the Orange lost the head-to-head matchup with the Panthers earlier this season.
The five-way tie for fourth came, in part, after Connecticut picked up its first BIG EAST win of the season Friday as the Huskies rallied for a 16-13 overtime win against West Virginia at Rentschler Field. The Huskies, who remained unbeaten at home this season (4-0), erased an early 10-0 deficit by keeping the Mountaineers out of the end zone for the final three quarters and in overtime. Connecticut (4-4, 1-2 BIG EAST) recovered four West Virginia fumbles, none bigger than Lawrence Wilson’s pickup in overtime, when the Mountaineers had first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
The defensive effort allowed K Dave Teggart to win the game with his third field goal of the game — a 27-yard kick in overtime — as the Huskies improved to 4-4. RB Jordan Todman had 113 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 33 carries, while QB Zach Frazer, who reclaimed the starting spot, threw for 166 yards on 29 attempts without an interception.
West Virginia (5-3, 1-2 BIG EAST) had 414 yards of offense and 24 first downs, but the Mountaineers were undone by seven fumbles, including the four that were recovered by the Huskies.
Pittsburgh relied on a stifling defense to remain unbeaten in the BIG EAST as the Panthers (5-3, 3-0 BIG EAST) limited Louisville to just 185 yards in a 20-3 win at Heinz Field. The Panthers held Louisville to 5-for-12 on third down conversions and limited the Cardinals to just one field goal on two trips inside the red zone.
The Panthers were led defensively by DE Jabaal Sheard, who had two sacks and two forced fumbles, including a strip sack in the third quarter that set up a five-yard scoring drive to start the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh played turnover-free on offense, meanwhile, getting touchdown runs from RB Ray Graham and RB Dion Lews to pull away in the second half
Louisville (4-4, 1-2 BIG EAST), which was held to its lowest scoring and yardage totals of the season, was unable to find an offensive rhythm, particularly after the loss of RB Bilal Powell early in the third quarter. Powell left the game with an apparent knee injury and did not return.
Syracuse capped the day with its fourth road win of the season as the Orange scored a 31-7 decision at Cincinnati. After a scoreless first quarter, the Orange scored 17 points within a 5:03 span of the second period and were pulled away in the second half.
Syracuse (6-2, 3-1 BIG EAST) got 109 rushing yards from RB Delone Carter and a pair of touchdown passes from QB Ryan Nassib, but the Orange defense was the story. Syracuse held Cincinnati, which entered the game averaging 30.3 points and 446.4 yards, to just seven points and 277 yards. LB Derrell Smith had a 60-yard interception return, while CB Phillip Thomas set up a field goal with a 21-yard fumble return.
Cincinnati (3-5, 1-2 BIG EAST) was without starting QB Zach Collaros, who missed the game with a knee injury. QB Chazz Anderson threw for 148 yards and ran for 66 for the Bearcats.
Only two games dot the Week 10 schedule, including a prime time matchup Wednesday as Rutgers visits USF on ESPN2. Saturday’s BIG EAST Network Game of the Week has Louisville at Syracuse in a battle of the BIG EAST’s two most improved teams from last year.