Pitt Notebook: Hutchins remains in long-range plans despite poor stats

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West Virginia and Pitt are two of the top defensive teams in the Big East and both teams feature offenses that have been inconsistent this season. So it stands to reason that the Backyard Brawl Friday will be a close, hard-fought defensive game in which points are at a premium.

That means the kicking game could play a very large part in determining the outcome. Panthers kicker/punter Dan Hutchins has been very good, but his lack of range as a kicker could become an issue Friday.

Hutchins is 1 of 4 on field goals from 40 yards and beyond -- he is 5 of 12 in that range for his career -- and that includs a miss from 43 yards Saturday that could have sealed a victory against South Florida.

Despite that, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said he isn't likely to consider using sophomore Kevin Harper for longer kicks even though he has a considerably stronger leg than Hutchins.

"Dan Hutchins is capable of kicking 50-yard field goals depending on the conditions," Wannstedt said. "Kevin Harper does have a stronger leg and he is available. If we got into a situation where it was a long field goal and we didn't like the conditions, that would always be a possibility. But I have all the confidence in the world in Dan Hutchins."

Hutchins, who said he has made 60-yard field goals in practice, said his longer missed field goals are not due to a lack of leg strength.

"I believe that I am able to kick those kicks. It is just unfortunate that I have missed multiple kicks like that. I'm very positive about it. I can't look at the past."

Heinz Field issues

Once again the playing surface at Heinz Field has taken center stage. Players and coaches from the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders -- the Steelers' past two opponents -- as well as some of the Steelers have complained publicly about how bad it is.

Hutchins said the field conditions won't decide the game, but they could change decisions about such things as what length field goals the teams will be willing to attempt.

"The field has been like that and sometimes it does affect the kicking," Hutchins said. "You have to overcome that. We've been in a position before where the field hasn't been that great. It shouldn't have an effect, though it might have an effect on them because they are not used to it."

Wannstedt added, "Last time we were there it wasn't bad. It has some wear and tear obviously, but we line up and play. I wouldn't even comment on it at this point. Whatever the conditions are, both teams have to play on it. It could have an effect on how we kick, but you deal with it. Both teams are going to have to play on that field."

Not worth challenge

Wannstedt has taken some criticism about his decision not to challenge a fumble by Nate Nix after he picked up a blocked punt Saturday against South Florida.

Nix picked up the punt, but fumbled as he was being tackled. South Florida recovered and got a fresh set of downs.

Wannstedt was asked Monday if he thought about challenging the play because it appeared as if Nix never fully had possession of the ball.

"I was talking to the official the whole time and he was telling me that it was being reviewed," Wannstedt said. "They were taking all the time on the field; they waited as long as they could to make sure that the guy upstairs had a good look at the situation. If the challenge meant that the referee was going to come over and he was going look at the TV and there was going to be a discussion about it, then you're more apt to challenge it. But if one guy is looking at it upstairs and he says 'that's not how I see it' -- or it is how he sees it -- it's tough with the challenge to overcome that."



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