Sunday, October 25, 2009

Big East On Location: Pitt 41, USF 14

Pittsburgh, PA-The Pittsburgh Panthers are 4-0 in the Big East for first time since 2003 and with another victory this weekend versus a talented South Florida team, the Panthers are making some noise in western Pennsylvania. Looking down at the field before the game and seeing their cheerleaders bundled up in the comfortable 62 degree fall day in downtown Pittsburgh, I should have known what kind of game it would be for South Florida.

Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said, “That was a great team win today. I don’t know how it could of come together any better than it did today” when referring to the 41-14 home win at Heinz Field in front of 50,019.

With four games remaining the Pitt Panthers took another step towards winning a Big East title, but it won’t be easy…not with the heart of the schedule approaching. With Syracuse on November 7th at home followed by Notre Dame at home on November 14th, Coach Wannstedt said, “Oh God yeah. Syracuse. We will take a day or two off. Then we will get on to Syracuse. Conference game, priority…” which the coach said with authority, lest anyone think his Panthers are might lose focus on the task at hand.

Freshman Superstar

It’s not like Dion Lewis came out of nowhere this afternoon as he surpassed 1,000 yards rushing, becoming only the fourth freshman in school history to reach that milestone. After seven games in the 2009 season Lewis has 1,028 yards on the ground. He joins Tony Dorsett, Curvin Richards, and current Philadelphia Eagle LeSean McCoy as freshman 1,000-yarders. That’s some pretty good company and Lewis said, “It’s something special, but I’m not really thinking about all that stuff. I’m just taking things week-by-week and getting ready to win. Maybe after the season is over I’ll think about that stuff, but right now I’m just focused on getting the next victory and helping my team win.” Standing fourth in Pitt history with four games to go, he should finish behind Hall of Famer Dorsett and would need to average 165 to eclipse Dorsett’s single-season freshman rushing mark.

Sophomore Sensation

Youth is being served at Pitt’s skill positions and not to be outdone by freshman running back Lewis is Jonathan Baldwin, the wide out from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. He’s an intimidating presence at 6’ 5” and 225 pounds…numbers that are reminding some of another former Pitt receiver—Larry Fitzgerald. Baldwin took it to the USF secondary, carving out six catches for 144 yards in the win. Pitt’s quarterback Bill Stull said of Baldwin, “He’s an incredible athlete and great teammate. He’s made big catches all year”.

The Art of the Knock-Out Punch

With 1:10 left and the ball on their own 46-yard line the, Pitt laid the gauntlet down on the Bulls. Instead of working through the air, Lewis scampered down the right sideline for 48 yards. The long dash put him over 1,000 yards in just seven games and as we mentioned above, he is only the 4th freshman in Pitt history to record 1,000 yards rushing. Short, but thick (think Maurice Jones-Drew), Lewis is special. In fact, walking into the stadium listening to Pitt fans’ chatter, I actually heard several say they liked him more than Shady (LeSean McCoy). With that Lewis-led score, the Pitt lead was increased to 31-7 and the door was closed on the game as the teams headed to their locker rooms at the break.

NFL Radar Screen

Many players had great games today but it was the play of USF’s senior linebacker Kion Wilson that I wanted to sit back and look at over and over again. What I saw was a guy who gets after it, and does so quickly. When asked about the pro game and who he looked up to, he said, “Tyrone McKenzie, who was with us last year. He carved the path. He got picked up in the third round. I just basically follow his work ethics on and off the field. Hopefully I can follow the same path”.

Facing McCoy and Lewis, the transfer from Pearl River Community College had this to say, “Dion is a pretty good athlete. He can run and he’s got great vision”. And Wilson should know after he watched Lewis carry the ball 23 times for 116 and two scores. Wilson finished the game with six tackles and his intense play was something I took note of.

The Prize Fight

Sometimes the hype doesn’t live up to actual game performances. However, today I was privileged enough to view two of the finest linemen the Big East has to offer—Pitt’s junior left tackle Jason Pinkston and USF’s senior defensive end George Selvie. Pinkston kind of had his way today with Selvie. The 6’ 4” 305-pound left tackle overpowered the 6’ 4” 245-pound Selvie, plowing him backwards while making room for Dion Lewis and tying him up in pass protection; it was definitely Pinkston’s day today.

Selvie said of Pinkston, “It was a very good match up. He’s a good player. He does everything well. He’s coached very well. He would come down on blocks, he gives you hands to tie you up…He played a good game today.”

First Time for Everything

Whenever I attend a live game, I’m always looking to see something new and it wasn’t long before I noticed four students with P-I-T-T painted on their stomachs. You might say, ‘That isn’t new! I see guys painted all the time!’ That’s true…but there was one change on these bellies—they belonged to four Pitt female students. From the crow’s nest (press box) I could see these four students proudly standing in the front row, representing their Panthers. It was a sight to see and something I’ll walk away from today’s game remembering.

Trick or Treat

Halloween is just around the corner and instead of merely mentioning that the Pitt Panthers are 7-1 and off to their best start since 2003, I thought I’d give you some tricks and treats from today’s game.

Breaking away from the X’s and O’s I asked Pitt quarterback Stull (245 yards and two TDs on the day) when he last went trick-or-treating. Stull responded, “Maybe when I was eight”. When asked if there where any Halloween plans for the team, he added, “We are going to do a little something our last year in college (laughs). I’ve actually had some conversations with some guys…we’re going to have some fun”. Stull added that he and his roommate—senior tight end Dorin Dickerson from Imperial, Pennsylvania—“Might do like a Michael Myers and Jason thing, I don’t know”. One thing he did know, was his favorite candy, “Reese’s…I love peanut butter”.

When asked what his favorite scary movie was, USF's Wilson responded, “I don’t know. When I sit and watch the movie I can’t get into it because I’m sitting there thinking ‘this isn’t real, this isn’t real’”. Wilson added, “I take my nieces and nephews trick-or-treating” and his favorite candy is “Snickers, hands down”.

Stull’s teammate Dickerson got into the mix saying “I like scary movies a lot”. Asking him what he might go as for Halloween Dickerson, also a Reese’s fan, said, “I’m going to be Michael Myers this year. I have a Michael Myers mask and stuff”.

Stat That Stood Out

Freshman Dion Lewis has 72 points this season, which ties him for third in freshman scoring (at Pitt) with Fitzgerald (72 points in 2002).

Looking Ahead

Pitt has a week off before they host Syracuse on November 7th at Heinz Field. After that game their true grit and character will show when they get the meat of the 2009 schedule. The Panthers will face Notre Dame at home, travel to West Virginia, then close the regular season at home against the sixth-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats.

Coach Wannstedt said, “It was a great team win today. We constantly talk about trying to improve every week and playing as a team. I don’t know how it could have come together any better than what happened today.” If the coach can say anything close to that after the next four games, the Pitt Panthers will have concluded one of their finest seasons ever.

Photos Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh, USF Athletics Communications