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Ball State Has Matchup Problems Vs. Pitt

September 12, 2003

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Quarterback Rod Rutherford was suspended for one quarter, yet still played only half of Pittsburgh’s season-opening romp over Kent State.

He doesn’t figure to be on the field during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against another Mid-American Conference opponent, Ball State. Maybe not all of the third quarter, either.

No. 11 Pittsburgh plays the second of three consecutive games against MAC opponents Saturday at Heinz Field, a less-than-challenging stretch that may not be of much value once the schedule gets more difficult in a few weeks.

Until then, coach Walt Harris hopes to avoid injuries to his key starters and polish an offense that couldn’t have been much more efficient than it was in last week’s 43-3 decision over Kent State.

One other thing, too _ he doesn’t want to repeat what happened to Purdue (against Bowling Green) and Maryland (against Northern Illinois), when a supposed tuneup game against a MAC team turned into an upset loss.

``If your football team isn’t focused, that’s when you get beat,″ Harris said. ``We’re not concerned with who we’re playing down the road. We will have plenty of time to get ready for them.″

If nothing else, at least Harris will get to see his starting offense work together at the start of the game for the first time. Rutherford didn’t get onto the field until the second quarter last week, then threw four touchdown passes in a span of about 12 minutes.

Still, the easy victory didn’t stop Pitt from slipping from No. 10 a week ago to No. 11 this week, and Ball State doesn’t figure to offer enough resistance for the Panthers to make any significant climb should they win.

The Cardinals (1-1) not only are coming off a 35-7 loss at home to Missouri, they must start backup quarterback Talmadge Hill, a senior who hasn’t started a game since Oct. 5, 2002. Starting QB Andy Roesch sat out the fourth quarter of the Missouri game after separating his right shoulder and didn’t practice this week.

Hill started 23 consecutive games for the Cardinals from the middle of the 2000 season through the middle of last season before Roesch became the starter. Hill is 8-of-14 for 89 yards this season.

Ball State coach Brady Hoke’s biggest matchup worry is 6-foot-3 Pitt receiver Larry Fitzgerald against his two starting cornerbacks, 5-9 Jess Avant and 6-0 Quentin Manley. Fitzgerald took advantage of frequent one-on-one coverage to catch three touchdown passes against Kent State.

Fitzgerald, who made 12 touchdown catches last year, probably is the most skilled receiver to oppose Ball State since Randy Moss in 1997. Moss caught five touchdown passes as Marshall won 42-16.

And while its conference has a history of pulling off upsets, Ball State hasn’t beaten a non-conference opponent of Pitt’s caliber since moving into the MAC in the early 1970s.

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