As Pitt’s Big East title hopes and a second straight BCS bid faded with every disappointing loss this season, the Panthers have had to readjust their goals.

With wins in today’s noon matchup with Connecticut at Heinz Field and on Thanksgiving night at West Virginia, Pitt can still reach its sixth straight bowl game.

But Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt believes his team should not look past the Huskies (4-4 overall, 1-3).

“We had a little meeting (a few days ago), and all I told them was that we need every bit of attention on this week,” Wannstedt said. “We know we’ve got two games left, but let’s worry about (WVU) later. So, that’s what has been thrown out there to them, and it’s kind of a theme right now.”

Pitt (4-5, 3-2) also can send out its seniors on a positive note.

“It’s the last game at home and, of course, you want to send them out as winners,” Pitt middle linebacker H.B. Blades said. “All of them had great careers here and have paid their dues here for four or five years.

“That’s a long time, for sure, but this might be one of the last games they ever play. So, it’s going to be a very emotional time, and I want to do everything I can to make sure they go out winners.”

Blades certainly is someone Pitt needs on defense. He leads the Big East in tackles, and Connecticut is among the top running teams in the conference. Tailback Terry Caulley has 560 yards rushing and six touchdowns, while backup Cornell Brockington has 245 and four scores. While Caulley was injured last season, Brockington torched Pitt for 185 yards and a touchdown.

The Huskies have been beset by injuries this season and lost fullback Lou Allen, their second-leading rusher, and starting quarterback Matt Bonislawski for the Pitt game. D.J. Hernandez and freshman Dennis Brown have combined to start three games at quarterback, and they don’t have much of a vertical offense. Caulley is the No. 2 receiver with 18 catches.

Hernandez has 260 yards passing and three touchdowns, while Brown – who Pitt recruited as a high school senior – has been more productive with 293 yards passing and two scores. He is expected to start against Pitt. The top wideout is Jason Williams with 25 catches for 248 yards and four touchdowns.

“The No. 2 quarterback came in when the starter got hurt, and then the freshman came in and has played pretty well,” Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. “So, we’re preparing for both guys, and we’re aware of what they can do physically, which is quite a bit.

“Brown showed some poise against Rutgers, a team that really gets after you, and Mr. Hernandez is a very gifted athlete with 200-some yards rushing. ... They both can run the ball and are very capable of playing quarterback and leading their offense.”

Hernandez is the fourth-leading rusher with 237 yards and a score. UConn has allowed 24 sacks, and Brown has been knocked down so often in two starts that he has negative rushing yards.

Wannstedt believed that Pitt’s best chance for offensive success would be from running the ball because the Huskies jam the line with eight or nine players to force the opposition to throw the football.

The Panthers have three top running backs, freshmen LaRod Stephens-Howling and Rashad Jennings and senior Ray Kirkley, to go with senior fullback Tim Murphy. Wannstedt wouldn’t confirm a starting tailback, but he could go with a senior-oriented backfield to start the final home game.

“It doesn’t matter who’s in there,” Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko said. “We’re going to need to run the football to set up our passing game, and all the guys will probably play a lot. So, it doesn’t matter who starts.”

Notes: Senior DT Thomas Smith (dislocated toe) is questionable. He’s been running this week and could play a dozen or so snaps. ... There are 17 Panthers in their final season of eligibility, including starters Charles Spencer (LT), Erik Gill (TE), Murphy and Kirkley, Josh Lay (CB), Tez Morris (FS), J.J. Horne (OLB), Smith, Phil Tillman (DT) and Josh Cummings (K).

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