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Backyard Brawl Next - WVU Defense is Scary Good

Written by Paul Zeise on .

Tino Sunseri maintains the Panthers "youth" shows its head from time to time and that is why the offense has been so inconsistent. He said they are still learning, still growing and still improving and as long as they continue to take steps forward that's all that really matters.

Ray Graham said that the Panthers are just a few plays here and there away from being dominant on offense but the realy measure of a great team is that they can win when they don't play their best.

Dion Lewis said it is a matter of execution and the Panthers have struggled to get all 11 guys executing on every play for an entire game. He said there are times when the Panthers execute and when they do, they are very good and if they could ever do it for a whole game, they will become a dominant offense.

Jason Pinkston said that the Panthers may be making some mistakes but the mistakes are correctable and the mistakes are sometimes a result of what the defense is doing.

In other words, there are many excuses reasons the Panthers offense can't seem to play well for an entire game and why everything is such a grind and struggle for them.

But here is reality - whatever the issues are the Panthers better get them solved and solved in a hurry because that West Virginia defense they will face on Friday in the Backyard Brawl is going to eat them alive if they don't play at a high level.

I have been looking at the Mountaineers numbers on defense and frankly that unit is much, much better than anything the Panthers have seen this season. It is a dominant unit by every measure and one that doesn't give up many yards and gives up even fewer points.

And looking at that defense by the numbers, the only question I have is how in the world is that team not undefeated - particularly given the schedule they've played?

At any rate, here are the numbers:

West Virginia allows only 12.9 points and 89 rushing yards per game. Yes, that isn't a misprint - 12.9 points and 89 rushing yards per game.

The Mountaineers have only given up 12 touchdowns, they are the only defense in the country which has yet to give up more than 21 points in a game. And only twice - a 24-21 win over Marshall and a 20-14 loss to LSU - have they given up even 20 points in a game.

Pitt's offense will have a chance to move the ball some against the Mountaineers, but let's be honest - outside of the Syracuse game, the Panthers have not played a good offensive game from start to finish.

Oh the Panthers have shown glimpses, like the way they closed the South Florida game, but they have not played four quarters of high-level offense in any game except against the Orange.

Yeah, I know, they scored 41 points against Rutgers and had 513 yards of offense but most of that was in the second half as the first half was a study in inconsistency and mistake-filled football.

And I'll echo what I said last week leading up to the South Florida game - it is Game 11 now, the "we're young and have an inexperienced quarterback and offensive line" defense for the Panthers inconsistency is no longer carrying much weight.

Pitt needs get this thing solved and put it together for two games or it will not win the Big East championship as WVU's defense will dominate them and/or Cincinnati's offense will outscore them....again.

Here are a couple of more observations from Saturday's game:

** The pass interference penalties against Antwuan Reed and Ricky Gary Saturday should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has watched these two play all year as neither one of them turns their head to look for the ball when it is in the air, ever. Both seem to be focused so much on the receiver, they never look for the ball and if they just turned their heads on a few of those passes Saturday they would have likely avoided the penalties. This is a simple technique and much like the offense, I'm not sure why in Game 11 it seems like they are still not playing the ball correctly when it is in the air.

** One player who has taken his share of criticism - though true to form, he's taken it with a smile and he's kept a positive outlook - is Cam Saddler but Saddler Saturday was a bit of an unsung here and he has really over the past few weeks been a very good punt returner. I know he had some issues with decision making and not catching the ball early, but he has been pretty good in that area and in this game he caught a few punts in traffic and had a 23-yard return that gave the Panthers very good field position Saturday. You have to feel good for Saddler as he had a rough start to the season but he is a great kid and a kid who stands for and does all the right things. 

** Dan Hutchins inability to kick a field goal longer than 40 yards is troublesome (he is 1-of-4 on such kicks and missed a 43-yarder Saturday which would have sealed the game). Wannstedt said last week that Hutchins is the least of his worries but the reality is this - the West Virginia-Pitt game is likely to come down to the end, particularly since both teams play good defense and both offenses are, um, inconsistent at best. Also points are likely to be at a premium in this game which means the Panthers can't afford not to come away with at least three points on drives when they get inside the Mountaineers' 30. Hutchins has been a reliable kicker but if ever there is a guy who will be under the spotlight this week it is him as field position and field goals are going to likely decide the outcome of this game.

** In case you missed it, we saw a little bit of both Shane Gordon and Bryan Murphy on Saturday in the second half and those are two guys who I think should get a few plays in every game - and in Gordon's case it should be more than a few. Like I wrote yesterday, the linebackers have been the most disappointing and underperforming personnel groups on this team all season. I can't remember, well scratch that because I doubt it has happened, a game when the three starters have all played well for an entire game. All three will be back next year but there is no question there needs to be a real and open competition at all three spots during spring and next summer because Pitt can't survive another season with the linebackers as a group performing like they have this year.

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