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South Florida secondary faster, smarter

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Pitt junior receiver Greg Lee had one of the best games of his career last year when the Panthers defeated South Florida, 43-14, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Lee torched the Bulls' secondary for eight passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns.

Lee is hoping to have a similar day tomorrow when the Panthers (2-4, 1-1 Big East) play host to the Bulls (3-2, 1-0) in a key Big East matchup. He knows he'll be a marked man because of what he did to the Bulls last season.

"I think the one key to that game was they were a young secondary and we took advantage of that," Lee said. "But you can see they are much more experienced and more mature and they are much better players. Plus they have all kinds of speed. You see a lot of plays where they are beat and they run people down from behind and make the tackle anyway -- that's how you know they are fast.

"We won't be able to count on them making some mistakes in coverage this year, so we'll have to find the best matchups that favor us on each play and try and make big plays as a team."

One reason Lee was so good in last year's game was he had plenty of motivation. A Tampa native, he was playing in his hometown in front of his friends and family against a team that didn't offer him a scholarship. Lee and the Panthers were also playing for a BCS berth that day.

Another reason Lee had such a big day was the Bulls blitzed a lot, which meant he was one-on-one with a corner most of the afternoon. Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko said he doesn't expect to see as much man-to-man coverage tomorrow.

"They aren't very complicated in what they do, they just do it very well," Palko said. "They do play some man-to-man but they also use some zone coverages, especially when they are trying to pressure the quarterback. I think we'll have some opportunities to throw the ball over the top, but we will have to pick our spots. They are playing with a lot of confidence so we'll have to be on our game."

Statistically the Bulls' defense has been average. It ranks fifth in the Big East in pass defense (182.8 yards per game) and fourth in rush defense (124.4). However, because of the Bulls' team speed they force a lot of turnovers (12 so far this season) and make enough big plays to keep teams from scoring a lot of points. South Florida allows an averaged of 16 points per game.

Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said that speed and big-play ability is going to pose a challenge for the Panthers, particularly along the offensive line. Cavanaugh expects his receivers to have big games only if the line can do its job and give Palko time to throw.

"They do some things to pressure the passer that aren't complicated and are easily recognizable, but because of their speed they are difficult to block," Cavanaugh said. "It will be important for us to establish some balance between the run and the pass to try and keep them off-balance and perhaps slow them down a bit.

"We'll have some shots down the field, but we have to be smart about when we try and take them and when we do, we have to make sure we get it blocked right."

NOTES -- Freshman tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling (ankle) was upgraded to probable, although he won't be returning kicks. ... Defensive tackle Nick Williams has practiced all week and will play tomorrow. Williams was serving a suspension for his role in an altercation with another student at a party.


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