Tuesday Lunch: On The Run Edition

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After the media contingent was done with the Butch Jones press conference this afternoon (watch here) SID Ryan Koslen made a quick correction of a bit of information suggested in a question about this being a possible last game against Pitt. It, obviously, will not be with the Panthers locked into a 27-month waiting period of by the conference, as Koz pointed out.

We immediately joked with Jones, saying, well not that we know of right now. Truth be told, we hadn't been monitoring the situation for the last 30 minutes, so, who knows?

That's how fast this game changes and today was no different upon exiting the press conference the Big East announced they had sent out formal invitations to a few unnamed institutions as the expansion plan took on its latest shape. The expected locks are UCF, SMU and Houston. Other schools mentioned during the process and thought to be included for football only have been Boise State, Air Force and Navy. They could accept any minute and are expected to do so according to Adam Zagoria had this story on it.

The ever-changing landscape continues to flip on its head about every week or two.

Here was the statement from commissioner John Marinatto:

"We had a very productive meeting and were able to discuss the great progress we have made in the last few weeks regarding conference realignment.

"Our Presidents voted unanimously to extend invitations to specific institutions, including both football-only and all-sport members to join the BIG EAST Conference.  I will be speaking to representatives of those schools shortly and look forward to announcing with them their acceptance into the BIG EAST. The addition of these members will extend our reach, bring us to exciting new markets, strengthen our status within the BCS, and lay the foundation for possible further expansion, all while maintaining the high quality and standards our Conference is known for.

"In light of the lawsuit filed by West Virginia yesterday, the Presidents also discussed and confirmed our continuing commitment to enforce the Conference's 27-month notification period for schools choosing to leave. The Conference believes these claims to be wholly without merit and will explore all its legal options to protect its interests and to ensure that West Virginia lives up to its obligations."

--- This means Cincinnati will be at the center of this new, restructured Big East and the exit fee is about to rise to $10 million. If you took the projected alignment, the conference would stack up well.

They'd have three teams in the AP Top 25 (No. 23 UC, No. 14 Houston, No. 5 Boise State).

That would be the same amount as the ACC (No. 11 Clemson, No. 12 Virginia Tech and No. 22 Georgia Tech).

And one shy of the new Big 12 (No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 17 Kansas State and No. 24 West Virginia).

It would take some adjusting, but the league would provide plenty of stiff tests.

--- And Marinatto pretty much broke out his impression of The Rock when addressing the West Virginia suit. Know your role and shut your mouth.

--- But enough about the future,
lets focus on the present and what was discussed regarding the Pittsburgh game Saturday.

Jones gave the standard praise for the opponent, specifically RB Zach Brown, who takes the place of Ray Graham. Brown, a transfer from Wisconsin, hasn't produced much in place of Graham this year, but Jones called him "as good as any running back in our conference."

Brown did run for 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns during his three seasons at Wisconsin, but doesn't possess quite the pass-catching ability of Graham. Still, Jones doesn't see Pittsburgh switching anything up because of the injury.

"You look at the experience (Brown) has had from Wisconsin," Jones said. "When Ray went down early in the UConn game they really put a lot on Zach's plate and he responded. I don't see them changing much at all, they are going to do what they do."

--- If they attempt
what they did last year at Nippert Stadium, Derek Wolfe plans to be prepared for it.

The numbers were ugly. Dion Lewis ran 42 times for 261 yards and four touchdowns on a snow-covered field.

Pittsburgh pounding the ball successfully on the Bearcats was nothing new. Take the last four games in this series and the numbers from the Panthers top RBs.

Year-Back           Carries-Yards-TDs

2010-Dion Lewis         42-261-4
2009-Dion Lewis         47-194-3
2008-LeSean McCoy  17-82-2
2007-LeSean McCoy  25-137-0
TOTAL                131-674-9 (5.1 ypc)

Wolfe still recalls the Panthers lining up and running power handoffs directly at him. Seven times in a row.

"It was just bad," he said. "The way they were blocking it, their offensive line, their butts were in the air. They looked like they were about to run a 40. I know what play is coming, but we are out there in an inch of snow and sliding around and you have two 300-pounders coming at you all you can do it try to make a pile right there. It was just over and over and over and over again. We didn't play well and last year was a whole different team. They better not be thinking it's the same team coming out there."

This is far from the same team. Beyond a 6-1 record, UC is second nationally against the run -- sandwiched between Alabama and LSU.

No team has averaged better than 3.8 yards per rush against them. In the last four games, teams rushed 129 times for 127 yards.

Wolfe admitted he felt helpless as Pittsburgh punished the line and placed an exclamation point on one of the most disappointing seasons in recent Bearcats history.

He hasn't forgotten.

"I have been thinking about this game since they beat us last year," he said. "We got some payback. They kicked us when we were down. We are going to make sure we get back up this year."

--- Running the ball on repeat wasn't the only detail the Bearcats held onto from last year's game. Isaiah Pead recalled watching the Panthers make snow angels and rushing the field with the River City Rivalry Trophy.

"We don't like these guys," Pead said. "They were dancing with the trophy, stormed the field. It hurt. Everything hurt. Losing that game, going 4-8, not going to a bowl game. It was a bad feeling all around. You could see in everybody's eyes that that was going to be a statement. When you get another chance to get that title back and play that team that did that to you, you have to be on your tip-top effort."

Zach Collaros tells the story about hearing them sing their fight song. Listening to the serious tone with which ZC tells the story explains all you need to know about his memory of the event.

"We got embarrassed on our home field," he said. "They were singing their fight song in our locker room. The locker rooms on the field are kind of close to each other. They were pretty excited and we just came off one of the worst seasons in all of our lives. That was a pretty depressing feeling for us. But it is something we have kept in the back of our heads for a long time."

--- Pittsburgh won't be the only motivation in Collaros' head. Despite his incredible second half against South Florida, much discussion this week has been on avoiding the turnovers -- particularly in the red zone -- providing the blemish on his season to this point.

Of Collaros' six interceptions on the season, four of them came in the red zone, with only the interception by NC State inside their own 5 not being caught in the end zone.

The mistakes caught Jones' attention.

"Lot of his interceptions have come in the red zone area and we can never take points off the board," Jones said. "That's critical. When we get in the red zone we take great pride in scoring touchdowns but if it's not there throw the ball away. Zach, being a competitor and maybe trying to force some things. We understand that and have worked extremely hard at that over the past two weeks."

Collaros is well aware of needing to avoid forcing throws. That's what got him into trouble last year when he tossed 14 picks. It's been a point of emphasis since the end of last season and continues to be so now.

"Just making good decisions," he said. "Not trying to do too much. There is a red zone play where I forced one to Anthony McClung trying to give him a shot to make a play and I underthrew it. Could have came away with three points there. That comes from experience. I have done dumb things in the past like that. I think I have learned form it. We work it every day in practice, making good decisions. I will improve on that."

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