With the thoughts of everyone -- players, coaches and fans -- on Eric LeGrand, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights will try to focus on football for a few hours Saturday afternoon, when they take on the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field.
Kickoff is scheduled for noon, and the game will be available on ESPN3.com.
There's been little talk about the game this week, with good reason -- we've all been more concerned with the plight of LeGrand, the Rutgers defensive tackle who suffered a spinal cord injury last Saturday against Army and is currently paralyzed from the neck down. Rutgers has not released much information on LeGrand's condition, but The Star-Ledger published a report Thursday evening which stated that LeGrand has not shown any movement yet below the neck, and his long-term prognosis is uncertain.
As for the game itself, it's sure to be an extremely emotional one for the Rutgers team. It's very hard to predict how the Scarlet Knights will perform. On the one hand, they could be at the top of their game, as they try to honor their fallen teammate. On the other hand, the trauma they've all experienced in the past week might have taken a lot out of them.
"The guys understand the urgency that is involved and, well, certainly Eric is on the front of everybody's mind," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said earlier this week. "They have been able to focus on the task at hand while we have been involved in football activities. It is one of the things we talked a great deal about … Eric LeGrand is a guy that comes to this facility and is locked in. He loves everything about it. We talked a lot about it as a team … he can't do that now, but you can, and that is what he wants."
Rutgers comes in at 4-2 on the season, after back-to-back dramatic wins against UConn and Army the past two weeks. Pitt -- the preseason Big East favorite -- is a disappointing 3-3. The Panthers are coming off a lopsided win over Syracuse, but have suffered three non-conference losses, to Utah, Miami (FL) and Notre Dame.
Both teams are 1-0 in the conference, however, so this is an important game.
Rutgers will start true freshman Chas Dodd at quarterback for the third game in a row, even though incumbent starter Tom Savage is 100 percent healthy or at least close to it -- his name did not appear on the Big East injury report this week. Dodd has played well and piloted two fourth-quarter comebacks in the first two starts of his college career, so Schiano is going with the hot hand.
"Chas stepped up [last week]," Schiano said. "I am just not judging anything, we are just going. We are going and we will look at [the quarterback position] as we go and we will make decisions as we go and try not to think too much past today."
Rutgers' biggest concern, football-wise, is the status of star wide receiver and wildcat QB Mohamed Sanu. Sanu was limited in practice this week because of an ankle injury, and is offically listed as questionable. He's expected to play, but we'll see how effective he can be.
Rutgers will also be without starting linebacker Manny Abreu because of a knee injury. Sophomore Ka'Lial Glaud slides in to take his place.
Pitt would seem to have the edge in this game, especially at home. But under the circumstances, hardly anyone -- in the building, or watching at home -- could feel terribly disappointed if the Scarlet Knights take this one.
The Scarlet Knights are, without question, the sentimental choice.