PITTSBURGH -- The Backyard Brawl being the type of football game it is among fans of Pitt and West Virginia, they trace their fingers down a new season's schedule until they find the annual matchup of the border rivals.
When they came upon the game to be played at noon today at Heinz Field (ABC telecast), they most likely thought back then about the matchup of running backs in Pitt's Dion Lewis and WVU's Noel Devine.
However, injuries to both players as well as the search for a spark in the running game at WVU and the emergence of one at Pitt affected the marquee value Lewis and Devine might deliver.
These are offenses that have begun to follow their starting quarterbacks.
Pitt's Tino Sunseri has passed for nine touchdowns and three interceptions the past four games. The sophomore has completed 82 of 119 passes for 1,073 yards as the Panthers have gone 3-1. West Virginia's Geno Smith is 24-for-45 for 307 yards, four touchdowns and one interception as WVU has won back-to-back games following consecutive losses.
"They both manage the ball and the clock and the chains from what I see very, very well," WVU Coach Bill Stewart said. "Similarities? Yes. Live arms. Good, balanced throws. Good decision-making.
"They both can run the football when need be. Both can evade trouble, but both are not a Patrick White or what we've seen, maybe, in the Big East running the option in the past. I think both have tremendous leadership skills, though."
Sunseri and Smith are in their first seasons as starters after playing sporadically as freshmen. Sunseri has the Panthers (6-4, 4-1 Big East) in possession of the Big East's top scoring offense and has had more highlights than lowlights of late.
Coach Dave Wannstedt said Sunseri has been asked and able to do things now that weren't presented earlier in the season, when Sunseri had his troubles.
The Panthers were 3-3 after a loss at Notre Dame.
"He's taken steps forward," Wannstedt said. "I think for all players things happen in different time frames for each individual player. I think the quarterback position, it's so magnified and under the microscope that when good things and bad things happen, it's talked about and written about and it's critiqued so much that it puts more attention on that position.
"I think what we've done - what Tino's done - is keep the focus on small improvements week after week. He's learning from his mistakes week after week now and looking ahead. He's not looking behind so much as he's just going out there and trying to do his job and not do too much. When he's got an opportunity to make plays, he makes plays."