The 6,532 fans who braved the elements to attend Pitt's Blue-Gold spring game on a damp and brisk Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field most likely came away thinking one of two things -- either the Panthers' defense is going to dominate opponents or the Panthers' offense is not very good.
The good news is there is a lot of time between now and when the season begins for the offense to improve. More important, the lack of explosiveness on offense -- it scored only one touchdown -- and imagination was by design.
At least that was the storyline from the key players after the 62-24 beat down the Blue team (defense) handed the Gold team (offense, though the offense actually wore white uniforms). The scoring system rewarded the defense for stops and turnovers, and the unit had plenty of both.
• The opener: Pitt at Utah in the 2010 season opener.
• When: 8:30 p.m., Sept. 2.
• Where: Salt Lake City, Utah.
• TV: Versus.
"I don't think there was much concern about [scoring only one touchdown]," said quarterback Tino Sunseri, who completed 9 of 17 passes for 82 yards. He scored the lone touchdown on a 9-yard run on a bootleg.
"We wanted to keep it very simple because [the game] was on the NFL Network and things of that nature, and we wanted to establish the ground game and get certain guys touches and we wanted to spread the ball around and we did a good job of that.
"It was very vanilla by design. We wanted to come out here and just do some things that were very basic in our offense."
Receiver Jon Baldwin added, "We just didn't want to give anything away, knowing that people are game planning against us and I'm pretty sure everybody we will play was watching. We just didn't want to show too much with a new quarterback and things of that nature."
While the "We didn't want to show [Utah coach] Kyle Whittingham and [Miami coach] Randy Shannon our secret formulas for offensive success" defense for Pitt's anemic offense in the game might hold some truth, it carries only so much weight given the way the game played out.
Pitt's passing offense was basic but outside of a 52-yard run by Dion Lewis, it didn't get much accomplished on the ground, either.
The Panthers ran 38 times for only 119 yards (3.1 per carry). That means without Lewis' long run, they managed just 67 yards on 37 carries. That's an average of 1.8 yards per carry.
The reason for that -- as well as the Panthers' inability to throw the ball down the field -- was the offensive line didn't play very well. The defense had 10 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 4 hurries.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said he was extremely pleased with the defense's performance and especially praised the defensive line.
Of course, the beauty of the spring game is that when one unit shines the unit on the other side of the ball does not. Wannstedt acknowledged that much, particularly the offensive line struggles.
"[Our defensive linemen] showed up today and our linebackers played extremely well," he said. "On offense we tried to get Jonathan [Baldwin] and Dion [Lewis] the ball early before we took them out. I thought Tino [Sunseri] was solid but the protection was a little bit of a concern from the standpoint of, we knew he wouldn't have a whole lot of time to hold the football and make decisions.
"Keeping the pressure off of him will be something that we need to look into with more detail. Last year was a little more of an offensive spring game."
NOTES -- Greg Cross (offense) and Antwuan Reed (defense) were named the Ed Conway Award winners. The awards are given to the most improved players of the spring. ... The Panthers avoided any major injuries but starting linebacker Max Gruder was knocked out of the action with what he said was a minor knee injury. He said his knee was fine after the game.
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720. First Published April 18, 2010 4:00 AM