Pitt Football: Inconsistent offense still a concern

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Pitt's three touchdown drives in its 21-20 victory against Iowa totaled 29 plays, 207 yards and an average of 7.14 yards per play.

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Game: Pitt (2-1) vs. Syracuse (1-3), noon Saturday.

Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.


The Panthers also had 11 first downs on those drives and possessed the ball for nearly 13 minutes.

It was the Panthers' offense at its best.

But besides those three drives, the offense was a complete non-factor as it mustered only 67 yards on 30 plays (2.23 yards per play) and had only two first downs on their other 10 possessions, not counting the three kneel-down plays at the end of the half and game.

The Panthers failed to get a first down on eight of those 10 possessions, and the two possessions in which they did yield a first down lasted only four plays. Pitt had seven three-and-out drives, including a stretch of six consecutive possessions that failed to get a first down, and one other possession ended when tailback LeSean McCoy fumbled on the first play.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said the Panthers need to find a way to be more consistent on offense if they hope to develop into the kind of dominant unit he believes they can be.

But putting a finger on why the offense has been so inconsistent is tougher than it may seem because there are many contributing factors.

He said two things that seem to stand out were a lack of execution by the players on what he termed "makeable third downs," as well as quarterback Bill Stull's inability to make some key throws to open receivers. He also credited Iowa's defense with bringing more pressure than it had shown on film.

"A couple possessions, we had guys open and we missed a couple of easy throws," Wannstedt said yesterday at his weekly news conference previewing the Panthers' game at Syracuse at noon Saturday.

"A couple times we turned some guys loose [not getting defensive linemen blocked] and it was more of us not executing, whether it was mental mistakes or physical. And give [Iowa] some credit, they did some things they had not done before.

"We need to be more efficient in third-down situations. From a head coach's standpoint, it is not fun to have to go for it on fourth down, particularly three times in a game. Those are decisions you don't want to have to make."

Although Stull did miss a few throws and the offense did miss a few blocks, there is one other element to the offense stalling so often Saturday: the play-calling was noticeably more conservative once the Panthers got a lead and it didn't open up again until they fell behind.

The Panthers often opted for safe running plays or short passing plays once they were in second-and-long situations, which didn't allow the offense to try to bury the Hawkeyes when they had them back on their heels early.

Wannstedt said one other element the offense needs to get rolling if the Panthers are going to find some consistency is McCoy and the running game.

Through three games McCoy has rushed 61 times for 242 yards (4 yards per carry) and is averaging only 80.7 yards rushing per game. Last season he averaged 110.7 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry.

He has scored five touchdowns, but he has yet to register a 100-yard game and his longest run was a 27-yard touchdown against Iowa.

Wannstedt said of all the problems facing the Panthers, this is the one of least concern. He said he's certain McCoy will get on track, and sooner rather than later.

"He's close [to having a breakout game]," Wannstedt said. "He has to be ... he's too good of a player not to. Him and LaRod [Stephens-Howling] are too good of players and they work too hard not to [get on a roll]. We're trying all kinds of different things to allow for a big play.

"Sometimes I think it might be too much, but we're working on that."

NOTES -- Punter Dave Brytus was named the Big East Conference special teams player of the week, and middle linebacker Scott McKillop was named defensive player of the week in the wake of the Panthers' victory. ... Wannstedt said that Elijah Fields and Dom DeCicco will "split time" at strong safety again this week. DeCicco started the first two games and Fields started against Iowa.

Paul Zeise can be reached at pzeise@post-gazette.com .


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