Despite his claim, McCoy ready for NFL

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With all due respect to Pitt running back LeSean McCoy, he's ready.

"Man, do you really think I'm ready for the NFL?" he asked yesterday, grinning.

Is a pig's fanny pork?

Heck yeah, I think McCoy is ready.

I'm guessing a few of the West Virginia coaches and defensive players are thinking it, too, after McCoy broke their hearts for the second year in a row.

"We tried to slow him down ..." linebacker Mortty Ivy said, not bothering to add that the Mountaineers failed miserably as Pitt won, 19-15.

"He's pretty special," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said of McCoy.

Pretty good guess, huh?

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said it best after McCoy's 33-carry, 183-yard, two-touchdown performance in a back-from-the-dead win: "Great players make great plays in big games."

Here's something Wannstedt didn't say about McCoy but certainly could have on this entertaining November afternoon at Heinz Field: Great running backs make enough great plays to cover for their quarterback's inadequacies and their coaches' blunders.

Pitt easily could have lost because quarterback Bill Stull had an awful game. He threw an inexcusable interception to safety Quinton Andrews on a fade attempt for wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin late in the first half with Pitt leading, 7-3. Later, on consecutive possessions, he overthrew wide-open fullback Conredge Collins on a fourth-and-3 play and tossed another interception to cornerback Brandon Hogan.

Pitt probably deserved to lose because of the decision to have Stull try that fade pass for Baldwin on second-and-goal at the West Virginia 2. It brought back horrible memories from a home loss to Navy last season when offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh called pass plays for freshman quarterback Pat Bostick on third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal at the 2 in the second overtime instead of giving the ball to the great McCoy, who had 165 yards. Each pass fell incomplete.

"As a head coach, if I had that one back, that's a play we don't call," Wannstedt said of the fade fiasco yesterday.

In the end, though, it didn't matter because of brilliant performances by the Pitt defense and by McCoy.

Actually, that interception might have done some good because it convinced Wannstedt and Cavanaugh that they had to give the ball to McCoy.

"We felt our only chance to win was by playing defense and running the ball," Wannstedt said.

McCoy took care of the running part.

Man, did he.

After an interception by Pitt's Jovani Chappel gave the Panthers the ball at the West Virginia 16 midway through the fourth quarter, McCoy ran for 11 yards on the first play and a 5-yard touchdown on the second to cut the Mountaineers' lead to 15-13. Then, after Pitt took possession at its 41 with 5:10 left, with everyone in the house knowing he would get the pig, he carried 10 times on an 11-play touchdown drive, accounting for 55 of the 59 yards and scoring on a 1-yard run with 52 seconds left. It was his 20th touchdown this season and the 35th of his two-year career, breaking Larry Fitzgerald's Pitt freshman-sophomore record.

"When I was with Miami," Wannstedt said, recalling his NFL days, "I once gave the ball to Ricky Williams 14 plays in a row."

You have a horse ...

"Oh, yeah, you ride him," Wannstedt said.

Funny, that strategy has worked pretty well for Pitt against West Virginia. In the stunning 13-9 win in Morgantown a year ago that deprived the Mountaineers a shot at the national championship, McCoy had 38 carries for 148 yards.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

That all of West Virginia hopes McCoy goes pro?

The Mountaineers knew McCoy was coming, and they still couldn't stop him.

"I wasn't begging for the ball on that last drive," McCoy said.

"But the big boys up front said, 'Let's run the ball.' I had the easy job just following those guys."

McCoy's bottom line?

"We kind of wanted it more than they did."

Inevitably, the NFL question came up for McCoy. As a third-year sophomore who played a year of prep ball, he is eligible for the April draft and would be a first-round pick. I'm not sure he isn't the best running back in Division I-A, and I know all about Ohio State's Beanie Wells and Georgia's Knowshon Moreno.

But McCoy said last week he was staying at Pitt because he didn't think he was ready for the NFL and he wanted to accomplish so much more in a Panthers uniform. "I want to put Pittsburgh where it used to be," he said yesterday.

McCoy helped Pitt take a big step in that direction with this win. The Panthers are 8-3 with a game at Connecticut Saturday and a bowl game to follow.

I would love to see McCoy come back next year for purely selfish reasons: It's great fun watching him run. But I still have my doubts that will happen. It's easy for a kid to say in November that he's staying in college. It's a lot harder to do it in January when you have to declare or not declare for the draft and they want to give you millions.

If the West Virginia game does turn out to be McCoy's final game at Heinz Field, he always will be able to say he went out in style. Rushing for a career high in yards, scoring the winning touchdown against Pitt's hated rival, exulting in the end zone ...

What a fabulous way to remember one of Pitt's all-time greats.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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