Pitt Football: Panthers believe their best is yet to come


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PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Dave Wannstedt said it after Pitt's 24-17 win against Rutgers Friday night.

So did Mick Williams, Bill Stull, Dorin Dickerson, Dion Lewis and every other player who entered the media interview room at Rutgers Stadium after the game.

"We haven't played as well as we can play. We haven't played our best football yet."

That might well be true, but the good news for Pitt is that, even though the Panthers likely have not played their best football and have not played as well as they can, they are 6-1 and 3-0 in the Big East Conference.

But here is some sobering news -- the Panthers have been able to get away with playing at less than their best and making a number of mistakes every game because their schedule has not been riddled with many -- if any -- good football teams.

That is about to change as the Panthers' final five games -- starting Saturday at Heinz Field against South Florida (5-1, 1-1) -- are against teams that went into games yesterday with a combined record of 21-7.

And that includes four losses by Syracuse, the only team remaining on the schedule with a losing record.

"We haven't even probably played 75 percent as well as we can," said Dickerson, who had six catches for 42 yards and a touchdown against the Scarlet Knights.

"Good teams win can games when they don't play their best, but we need to start cleaning some things up and putting teams away."

The game against Rutgers was an example of a trend as the Panthers allowed another team to hang around while Pitt's self-inflicted wounds held the Panthers back.

Consider:

• The Panthers stopped the Scarlet Knights on the opening drive and forced a punt. But the punt bounced off the leg of Pitt safety Dom DeCicco, and Rutgers recovered at the Panthers' 11. One play later,the Scarlet Knights led, 7-0.


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• Dan Hutchins missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter that would have given Pitt a 10-7 lead, then missed a 30-yarder with 2:31 to play which would have put the Panthers up by 10 points.

Of course, Hutchins' first field-goal attempt would not have been necessary had Stull connected with Dickerson on what would have been a 25-yard touchdown pass the play before.

• Hutchins also had a punt blocked late in the third quarter with the Panthers holding a 24-10 lead. Rutgers recovered at the Panthers' 39 but could not move the ball.

• On the next series, Stull fumbled at the Panthers' 49, and the Scarlet Knights made Pitt pay as they needed eight plays to score a touchdown and pull to within 24-17.

• Hutchins then missed his second field goal of the game, giving Rutgers some life. Two plays later, Pitt cornerback Jovanni Chappel had an interception and likely return for a touchdown in his hands but he dropped the ball.

Pitt survived the many mistakes because of a struggling Rutgers offense and a Panthers defense that made some critical stops.

But Stull believes the Panthers' best work is on the horizon.

"It will be scary," Stull said. "I wouldn't want to be the opposing team once we get all three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- rolling on all cylinders. It is going to be special, and we show glimpses of that now and then.

"As long as you are getting better every game, you will be playing your best football toward the end of the season, and that is where we want to be."




Paul Zeise can be reached at pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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