With a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back, an offensive line prone to allowing sacks and a first-year starter at quarterback, one would think the Pitt coaching staff would be relying heavily on the running game early in the season.
But two problems have forced the Panthers to go more to the pass through the first two games. The first is that opposing defensive coordinators are stacking the line of scrimmage and forcing the Panthers into passing plays. The second has been Pitt's inefficiency on first down, which has pressed the offense into too many second- and third-and-long situations.
The result is skewed statistics in the run-pass balance in the offense.
Pitt has been passing more than almost any other team in NCAA Division I-A. Only three quarterbacks among 117 others in Division I-A have attempted more passes than Pitt junior Billy Stull.
Case Keenum of Houston, Graham Harrell of Texas Tech and Ryan Lindey of San Diego State have attempted 104 passes each. Stull is next with 84 attempts.
By contrast, Pitt has 66 rushing attempts and sophomore LeSean McCoy, who led all freshmen with 1,328 yards last season, has not gained more than 100 yards in either game against Buffalo or Bowling Green.
Of the Division I-A teams that have played two games, only 32 have attempted to run less than the Panthers.
Coach Dave Wannstedt said he does not pay attention to any statistics until the season is halfway over, and he said he is not concerned with the team's offensive balance under coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.
"Matt and I did some self-scouting [yesterday] morning and we are darn near 50-50 on first down," Wannstedt said.
"I think we're right where we need to be. We just need to run better and throw better. That's the issue -- to be more effective. I don't think doing one or the other more is an issue. It's just an issue of doing it better."
Stull, who will be making his fourth career start Sept. 20 when Pitt plays host to Iowa, understands why he is seeing so many eight-man fronts.
"I would do that, too, if I saw a first-year starter who's only started a couple of games," he said. "I definitely take that personally. I just have to be on my A-game. I just have to make the right reads and checks."
McCoy gained 71 yards on 23 carries in the loss to Bowling Green and had 93 yards on 20 carries in the victory against Buffalo. He does have four touchdowns but is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.
Despite the low rushing numbers, McCoy seems to be content with the way the offense is unfolding.
"We'll take what they give us," McCoy said. "We just have to try to keep balanced. That's the best way to go at a defense. Against Buffalo, we were running and throwing, keeping them guessing."
Wannstedt said the Panthers are close to breaking some big plays in both phases of the offense. When that happens, opposing teams will begin to change their game plans.
"We've been close a couple of times," Wannstedt said. "Maybe it's been the read of a back or someone slipping off a block. It hasn't been three or four guys who have cost us from being successful. It's usually been one guy. We'll get those [big plays]. We're getting closer."
NOTE -- Outside linebacker Shane Murray (knee) has returned to practice and could be ready to play against Iowa. "As long as he keeps progressing we expect him to be involved next week," Wannstedt said.
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.