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December 5, 2007
Pittsburgh's bowl drought will continue for a third season, but the Panthers go into the offseason with the next best thing.
The Panthers ended the national title hopes of archrival West Virginia with an unlikely 13-9 over the Mountaineers in Morgantown. Though Pittsburgh finished the season 5-7, its worst record in three seasons under Dave Wannstedt, the Panthers enter the offseason with renewed optimism for 2008.
Plus, West Virginia's defense was upstaged by Pittsburgh's. WVU managed only 183 yards of offense and its lowest point total since the Gator Bowl after the 2003 season.
Pittsburgh took two weekly awards from Rivals.com: McCoy was named National Freshman of the Week, and Panthers defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads was named Coordinator of the Week.
"It doesn't replace a bowl game," Rhoads said. "But it does springboard us into recruiting, our offseason training and conditioning and spring ball. It immediately heightens the hopes for a more successful 2008 and raises expectations, which is just fine."
From the outside looking in, it couldn't have been a more unlikely result for the defense. In the past two "Backyard Brawls,' WVU had scored 45 and 42 points on the Panthers. And Pitt struggled early in the season on defense, particularly in a 48-45 double- overtime loss to Navy when the Midshipmen ran for 331 yards.
The Panthers entered Saturday's game with few giving them a chance to stop West Virginia on the way to the national championship game. Pitt was a four-touchdown underdog.
"They should have been a 28-point favorite in that game," Rhoads said. "We were 4-7 and they were 10-1. They were in the top three in the country in offense and defense. On paper, the game was a mismatch."
Beyond the numbers, Pittsburgh slowly began to recover from early setbacks.
Led by the nation's leading tackler, Scott McKillop, the Panthers gradually improved since the Navy game. The end result was a stifling of WVU's offense.
White missed half of the game with a thumb injury, but in his absence, neither Slaton (nine carries, 11 yards) nor Noel Devine (seven carries, 11 yards) could kick-start the rushing attack.
Part of the key was watching film of Slaton's and White's success against Pitt in the past two seasons.
"The kids might have been as close to flawless in a football as you can be," Rhoads said. "We had people in the right location to tackle him (Slaton). Plays that we had against him in the past, there was too much space involved. And (this season) we were able to keep their guys inside and not get on the perimeter."
OTHER NOMINEES FOR COORDINATOR OF THE WEEK:
Bud Foster, Virginia Tech
Brent Venables, Oklahoma
Scott Shafer, Stanford
Gary Nord, Florida Atlantic