MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- One by one Pitt's players came out of the locker room to meet the media after the Panthers' 19-16 loss to West Virginia and repeated their coach's rallying cry.
"Our goal is to win the Big East, and we can achieve that next week," Dave Wannstedt said.
Pitt linebacker Adam Gunn said, "at the start of the season, our goal was to win the Big East, and we can still do that."
And guard John Malecki, "our goal is to win the Big East, and that hasn't changed."
In other words, the talking points memo apparently distributed to the players in the locker room must have read something like "put on a happy a face and talk about the game Saturday against Cincinnati at Heinz Field being the important one."
That may be true as the Panthers (9-2, 5-1 Big East) and Bearcats (10-1, 6-0) meet with a BCS bowl berth on the line, but it is hard to believe that the team that lost to West Virginia two days ago is playing well enough to beat any quality team, much less the No. 5 team in the country.
Especially if the offense does not rally from one its worst games the unit has played all season.
The offense, of course, starts with the quarterback and, for the first time this season, the Panthers' Bill Stull was more of a liability than an asset as he threw two costly interceptions, missed a number of easy throws and never looked comfortable.
But it was more than Stull -- there were dropped passes by receivers, the offensive line showed cracks for the first time and, while the running game was productive, it was inconsistent.
Pitt's players said that while it was indeed a bad night, it will not spark a trend.
"They had a few tweaks in their defense they hit us with, and we had to adjust to them and it took us too long to make the adjustments," Malecki said. "We just didn't execute, so we just need to improve on it and go into next week with our heads held high. We really just didn't get the job done, and that is the bottom line."
So the rush is on to get the offense fixed in a week of practices if the Panthers are going to win this weekend because there is no question the Bearcats are going to score points -- a lot of them most likely.
Cincinnati's offense is explosive and can pile up scores in a hurry. Only once this year -- a 24-21 victory against West Virginia -- have the Bearcats been held to less than 28 points. In seven games. they have scored 34 or more.
Pitt's best chance at winning is to return fire and try to keep the Bearcats' offense on the sidelines. And a big game from freshman tailback Dion Lewis will enable the Panthers to control the clock.
Stull said the team will be ready.
"We're going to watch the tape and close the door on this chapter and get ready to go next week," Stull said.
"We have to be true to ourselves, realize the mistakes we made and the only way we can get better is correct those mistakes."
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720. First Published November 29, 2009 5:00 AM