Pitt faces tough test with N.C. State

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So far, so good for the Pitt Panthers who are off to their first 3-0 start since the 2000 season. The Panthers have won all three games by more than 10 points and have played at a high level, particularly on offense, in parts of each.

But this week, the Panthers will answer two important questions: How much of the 3-0 start is due to the fact that they are a good football team? How much of it has to do with the fact that they have played three inferior teams.

The Panthers will play at North Carolina State Saturday and, while the Wolfpack is likely a middle of the pack team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, they are a significant step above the Panthers' past two opponents, Navy and Buffalo, in terms of the kinds of athletes and level of talent they have on the roster.

And the Panthers opened their season against Youngstown State, a Division I-AA team.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said the Panthers' schedule has been a nice progression of a little tougher opponent each week, and he believes that has prepared them for the rest of their schedule, which offers very few, if any, guaranteed wins.

"If you look at our schedule, we've taken a step up from a competition standpoint every week," Wannstedt said at his weekly news conference.

"From Youngstown State, to Buffalo, to Navy, and now we're heading down to play an ACC team. They're a very good football team. They've got a lot of talent. We're playing on the road, and it's going to be a full house. So, this will be another challenge that our football team needs to meet.

"We'll find out what type of team we have."

The Wolfpack (2-1) presents two challenges for the Panthers: Standout quarterback Russell Wilson, who is mobile and an excellent passer, and an athletic and active defensive front seven.

Pitt has already faced two mobile quarterbacks this season in Buffalo's Zach Maynard and Navy's Ricky Dobbs and did a good job of defending against them.

The defensive front seven, however, offers a new test for the Panthers because their offensive line has dominated three clearly overmatched fronts.

Wannstedt said that will not be the case Saturday.

"When you look at N.C. State, their defensive line looks very similar to ours," Wannstedt said. "Those four guys they have up front are playmakers, they can all run and they're athletic. Their defense is very similar to ours. They have good linebackers that can run and make plays and good secondary players.

"We have a big challenge facing us, the biggest to this point in the season."

NOTES -- Pitt freshman Dan Mason was named the Big East defensive player of the week. Mason had 11 tackles and two sacks Saturday in the Panthers' 27-14 win against Navy. Mason started in place of Adam Gunn (ankle). Wannstedt said Gunn may return Saturday and, if he does, he will return to the starting lineup. ... Wannstedt, along with thousands of other college coaches of all divisions, will wear a "Coach to Cure MD" patch on his left arm Saturday as part of a nationwide effort by the American Football Coaches Association to raise national awareness as well as money to fund research of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the most-prolific genetic killer diagnosed in childhood. ... Pitt is 3-0 but still hasn't cracked the top 25 of either poll, but Wannstedt is not concerned about it. "We're comfortable just doing what we're doing," Wannnstedt said. "The polls at this point mean nothing." ... Pitt had five 15-yard personal foul penalties against Navy, something Wannstedt said is not likely to happen again. "That's ridiculous," Wannstedt said. "There's a fine line when you're being aggressive. If we make bad decisions this week, and it takes us out of field-goal range, we could lose the game. They were addressed in the team meeting.". ... Jan Wannstedt will be hosting her annual Football 101 Tuesday, Oct. 6 at Pitt's South Side complex from 6-8 p.m. Food and beverages will be included in the price of the $25. Those interested should contact Kim Deri in the Panther Club office at 412-648-8889.

Paul Zeise can be reached at pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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