Pitt hopes to avoid rust with off week

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Pitt is off this week, so the Panthers will take time to rest, get healthy and get ready to play Connecticut next Thursday night.

In theory, the team coming off an open week should have an advantage because it has extra days to prepare, is rested and focused.

The reality can be much different.

The Panthers under Dave Wannstedt, for instance, are 3-8 in games coming off an open week or with 11 or more days to prepare.

The reasons for that record are varied.

In some cases, it had a lot to do with the opponent -- earlier this year the Panthers came off an open week and got pounded by Miami, 31-3. But, in a lot of cases, it was a matter of the Panthers just not playing well after the layoff.

Last season, for example, the Panthers took a five-game winning streak into the final off week of the season and then played perhaps its worst game of the season in losing to West Virginia, 19-16.

Some players suggested after Saturday's win against Louisville that the Panthers were finally getting some momentum -- it was their third win in a row -- and that perhaps they would lose some steam in the off week.

Wannstedt doesn't buy into open week theories.

"When you are winning, everybody says they want to go week to week [without an open date]," Wannstedt said. "And when you are losing, everybody says they want extra days, but I don't know either way. I think it is all in how you approach it and we're not [viewing it as time off].

"We had a very spirited practice and our guys are feeling good about themselves right now and there is a good vibe on our team. And when there is a good vibe people don't mind working, and now we have to take advantage of it."

The Panthers won't alter their routine with extra time leading up to the Connecticut game. Wannstedt said the key is to use the off week to get healthy and next week to get ready for the game. And because they don't play until Nov. 11, the Panthers will be in pads and go full contact in practice to help maintain their edge.

"[Tuesday] we went all Pitt vs. Pitt," Wannstedt said. "We did some red-zone work, some two-minute work and some kicking. But today and tomorrow will be preliminary game plan work, and we'll give the kids a little bit of a break over the weekend and then come back Sunday and away we go.

"We'll take advantage of the days off in terms of practice to some degree, but I want our guys to be fresh, too, and get the work done we need to get done but at the same time be smart and get some guys healthy who are banged up and get their legs underneath them."

If there are some negatives to an open week, Wannstedt said he isn't sure what they are. It's possible a hot team could cool off or lose its momentum, but he said that would happen if a team works hard and treats the week as if it were the same as training camp.

He said the Panthers got off to a good start Tuesday by having a very "spirited" practice.

"You get out of a routine a little bit and you can lose your edge from [a physical standpoint] if you don't keep tackling," Wannstedt said. "The good thing with what we do here is, we're not one of those teams on either side of the ball that really gets away from the basics, so we will keep our focus there and just keep working on fundamentals.

"And we will tackle every day this week."

NOTES -- Defensive end Greg Romeus practiced Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wannstedt is not yet ready to say he will play against the Huskies. ... Fullback Henry Hynoski (concussion) is not practicing yet, but Wannstedt said that was just a precaution because they have extra time to get ready for Connecticut. He expects Hynoski to play next week. "Henry, we will give him a couple days but he has really bounced back very quick," he said. "In fact, I stuck my head in to the running back room and he was in there running the meeting with the projector. I don't know if that is good or bad but I took it as a good sign." ... The players elected their captains for the year: seniors Jason Pinkston, Jabaal Sheard and Dom DeCicco.


Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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