To survive, Panthers' offense needs more air

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Pitt scored 54 points against Buffalo on Saturday, but that total just might have been fool's gold -- the Panthers had only three sustained drives and none of them came after the half, even though it was still a close game until midway through the fourth quarter.

The Panthers were handed 27 points by the Bulls due to turnovers and had a one-play drive -- an 85-yard touchdown run by Dion Lewis -- late in the game when trying to run out the clock. Lewis broke a tackle, made a move and was off to the races.

Pitt was actually outgained 500 yards to 381 and, perhaps a little more alarming, had only 119 yards of total offense in the second half (including Lewis' 85-yard run).

That's why offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti was cautious in declaring the performance a dominant one. He said that although the offense showed some versatility, it still has a long way to go.

"What you saw Saturday is a lot of who we'd really like to be," Cignetti said. "We want to be balanced in the run game and in the pass game. We'd like to be multiple in the pocket and outside the pocket in terms of drop back passing and quarterback movements and motions and shifts.

"But we'd like to take some shots down the field and be aggressive in the passing game."

Taking some shots down the field is what Pitt needs to do in the next few weeks if the team really wants to reach its goals.

The Panthers failed to complete any passes longer than 25 yards, and the long passes (20 yards or more) they have completed have been underneath routes with yards after the catch by the receivers.

Because the offense is still a work in progress, Cignetti said he's not worried about the lack of big plays down the field. But he knows it is only a matter of time before defenses start to sneak up and take away some of the short stuff, forcing the Panthers to beat them over the top.

"We're not happy with it," Cignetti said of the lack of big plays. "You see us practice, we take shots down the field at practice. But the Youngstown State game, it just didn't happen. The first play of the game Saturday we called a double-go [it had a chance], there were a couple other routes down the field, but we'd like to be more aggressive and take some shots.

"We absolutely have to [connect on some deep passes]. You have to have the vertical passing game working and the intermediate passing game working and then the completion phase as well."

One weapon that Cignetti has had a lot of fun working into the game plan is tight end Dorin Dickerson, who has 12 receptions and four touchdowns. He said that Dickerson's success is a product of an offense working together and a quarterback making the right reads and decisions.

Dickerson is one of a handful of playmakers, Cignetti said, but his versatility makes him a special player and one which will figure prominently into almost every game plan.

"That is the backbone of a great offensive system -- getting our playmakers touches," Cignetti said. "What Dorin enables us to do is be very creative because he's a guy who can line up anywhere on the field and create matchups."

NOTES -- Head coach Dave Wannstedt said yesterday that receiver Mike Shanahan (hand) is cleared for the game and will be available to play tomorrow. ... The game is not televised, but it is available on the Internet at ESPN360. Comcast high-speed Internet subscribers can get ESPN360 for free. ... The subject of cut-blocking that Navy does was again approached with Wannstedt yesterday and he was asked if he thought it was a dirty way to block. "No, it is just different. It is just a different way of doing things," Wannstedt said. "I don't worry so much about the linemen cutting our defensive linemen because they are right in front of them, but it gets dangerous when the slotback coming out of the backfield is cutting a linebacker whose eyes are in the backfield looking for a runner." ... There should be a big crowd for the game, as close to 55,000 tickets had been sold as of yesterday. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. and there will be a fireworks show at its conclusion.

Paul Zeise can be reached at .


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