Offense, not defense carries Pitt
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AMHERST, N.Y. -- Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said something late yesterday afternoon that was unimaginable a week ago, a month ago, certainly 9 1/2 months ago when his Panthers defied incredible odds in the worst way to be shut out in a college football game, 3-0, by Oregon State in the Sun Bowl.
"Offensively, we were able to carry the load today. That's a nice feeling."
Can you believe that?
Can you believe Pitt spanked Buffalo, 54-27, here yesterday?
I watched it and I can't believe it.
I would have told you before the game that Pitt couldn't score 54 points combined against any four opponents on its schedule, outclassed Youngstown State aside. Of course, I also would have said no four opponents could score a combined 27 points on Pitt's alleged great defense.
That's why this game was both encouraging and troubling.
First, the positive.
Pitt did win, right?
Quarterback Bill Stull -- who was booed at Heinz Field last weekend when Pitt crushed Youngstown State, 38-3 -- played a solid game, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another. Even better, Stull found that his two new playmakers -- freshman running back Dion Lewis and senior hybrid tight end Dorin Dickerson -- are the real deals.
Lewis, after running for 129 yards and two touchdowns in his debut against Youngstown State, roared for 190 yards and two touchdowns. His 85-yard run in the fourth quarter -- he used a sweet spin move to get through the line and then outran two defensive backs to the end zone -- was fabulous, Shady McCoy-like if you will. "He's going to be a big-time player for us," Wannstedt gushed.
It would be inaccurate to say Wannstedt had doubts about Lewis yesterday. But he was apprehensive about the kid playing in front of at least 15 family members -- including his parents --from Albany, N.Y. "I was scared to death," Wannstedt said.
Lewis shrugged that off just as he shrugged off the Buffalo tacklers.
"I am always focused," he said.
Dickerson also seems determined to have a big season. This is a kid from West Allegheny High School who turned down scholarships offers from Penn State and Florida to come to Pitt only to bounce from running back and wide receiver as a freshman to linebacker as a sophomore to tight end last season when he had 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns. It's clear new Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti loves having him. Yesterday, Dickerson lined up at tight end, fullback, H-back and even split wide a few times. "His athleticism and speed gives him mismatches against most linebackers," Wannstedt said.
Dickerson had eight catches for 71 yards and three touchdowns against Buffalo, making his two-game totals 12 catches for 97 yards and four touchdowns.
"Dorin is the cherry on the top of the cupcake for me," Stull said of his roomie. "He puts our offense over the top."
It was nice to see Stull smiling after the beating he's taken from the fans and the press.
"I thought Billy played within himself," Wannstedt said. "We called at least four plays for him down the field where he didn't like what he saw, didn't force the ball and checked down to a back. That's all he has to do. Just manage the game and, when the plays are there, make them."
This is how efficient Stull and his offense were: Pitt didn't have a turnover, didn't allow a sack and had just one penalty.
"I'm excited," Wannstedt said.
About that Pitt offense, anyway.
Here comes the negative.
Could the Pitt pass defense have been any worse?
Buffalo quarterback Zach Maynard -- making just his second collegiate start -- absolutely torched Pitt, throwing for 400 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receivers Brett Hamlin (12 catches for 149 yards) and Naaman Roosevelt (6 catches for 157 yards and touchdowns of 54 and 67 yards) practically ran at will through the secondary.
Pitt's pass defense hasn't been exposed like that since the Rutgers game last season when quarterback Mike Teel threw for 361 yards and six touchdowns in a 54-34 Pitt loss.
"They had us on our heels a lot of the time," Wannstedt said.
Buffalo coach Turner Gill's game plan had Maynard throwing off three-step drops when he wasn't rolling out. That neutralized Pitt's star defensive ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard. It's fair to think the Panthers will see more of that until they tighten up the secondary.
The good news is the defense forced three turnovers. Linebacker Greg Williams returned a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown.
The better news is Wannstedt and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett were able to regroup with their defense after the Rutgers fiasco last season. The unit played well the rest of the season.
At least this time, Wannstedt and Bennett get to make their adjustments after a win, thanks to that high-powered Pitt offense.
Talk about the unimaginable 9 1/2 months ago.
First Published September 13, 2009 12:00 am