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October 17, 2007

Bearcats Looking For First Win Against Pitt

Nearly a year went by before Cincinnati got its first taste of losing under coach Brian Kelly. The Bearcats, though, have been accustomed to losses against Pittsburgh since 1921.

After having a nine-game winning streak snapped, No. 23 Cincinnati looks to beat lowly Pittsburgh for the first time when the Big East rivals meet at Heinz Field on Saturday.

The Bearcats (6-1, 1-1) fell 28-24 to Louisville on Saturday night, their first loss since Kelly took over after the regular season in 2006, and fell eight spots in this week's poll.

"Win or lose, we were going to put this game away," Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk said. "Our record is 0-0 going into the next game."

Cincinnati has a good opportunity to bounce back quickly against Pittsburgh (2-4, 1-1), which has lost four straight. The Bearcats, however, have lost all six meetings with the Panthers in a series that began 86 years ago and includes two games since Cincinnati joined the Big East in 2005.

This will be Kelly's first matchup against Pitt. He has turned the Bearcats' offense into one of the nation's best, and that should give Cincinnati a significant edge.

Cincinnati is ninth in the country in scoring average at 40.6 points per game, while Pitt has given up an average of 42.0 points in its last three contests.

Mauk and the Bearcats, though, couldn't gain 4 inches on a fourth-down sneak in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals, which proved to be the turning point. The Bearcats also stalled on first-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the fourth, and Cincinnati settled for a field goal after wasting an opportunity for a tying touchdown.

Cincinnati has also slipped defensively over the last three games, giving up an average of 24.6 points in those contests. The Bearcats are second in the nation with 16 interceptions, but their pass defense was picked apart with short throws by Rutgers and Louisville in their previous two games.

Cincinnati went into last week's contest first in the country in INTs, but dropped one spot in that category after failing to record one for the first time this season.

"Turnovers are something we've been banking on all year," said Bearcats safety Haruki Nakamura, tied for second on the team with three interceptions. "Usually, we set up our offense. We're a big-play team."

Nakamura and Cincinnati's defense will try to rebound against Pitt, which has turned the ball over a Big East-high 15 times.

Pat Bostick's sixth interception of the season was Pitt's only turnover against Navy on Oct. 10, but it sealed a 48-45 double-overtime loss.

The Panthers (2-4, 0-1) had a chance to send the game to a third OT, but passed up what would have been a tying chip-shot field goal. Instead, coach Dave Wannstedt gambled and Bostick overthrew tight end Darrell Strong on a fade route in the end zone.

The schedule only gets tougher for the Panthers, who have matchups with No. 2 South Florida and ninth-ranked West Virginia remaining. Pitt is in danger of failing to make a bowl game for the third straight season, and could be headed for its worst season since going 2-9 in 1998.

"It's sad because we have great coaches and great players and the results just don't show it," Panthers safety Mike Phillips said.

Pitt, the only Big East team without a conference win, is struggling despite outstanding production from freshman running back LeSean McCoy. With former star Panthers runners Tony Dorsett and Curtis Martin watching, McCoy had 165 yards and three touchdowns against Navy.

McCoy is second in the Big East with 688 yards and nine touchdowns. He has scored three TDs twice in his first six college games.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, has not allowed a team to rush for 100 yards since yielding 175 against Southeast Missouri State in its season opener.


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