Preview: Pittsburgh Offense

IrishEyes examines the key offensive personnel for the Panthers balanced offense.

The Panthers boast the nation's 26th-ranked rushing attack and are 37th overall in total offense through nine games. They're 16th in the nation in scoring at 34 points per game (the Irish rank 36th scoring just over 30 per contest) and are sixth national in passing efficiency.

Below is a look at the Panthers key personnel entering Saturday's prime time matchup with the Irish.

Skill Position Starters

  • Running back – Freshman #28 Dion Lewis: One of the nation's premier newcomers, Lewis is a compact 5'8" 195-pound ball of fire who's already accumulated 1,139 yards (5.6 average) and 12 TDs rushing this season and added 16 catches for 134 yards and another score as a pass-catching option out of the backfield.

    The extremely shifty Lewis will be difficult for Irish tacklers to contain in space.

  • Fullback – Redshirt-Sophomore #27 Henry Hynoski: Has averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry on his 97 rushing attempts this season (for the sake of comparison, Notre Dame's Robert Hughes has amassed just 71 carries through nine games this year. At 6'2" 260 pounds, Hynoski also serves as the primary lead blocker for freshman phenom Dion Lewis.

    Was singled out by Irish head coach Charlie Weis for his versatility and ability to catch the ball in the flat.

  • Tight End – Senior #80 Nate Byham: 6'4" 265-pound team captain has started 31 of the Panthers last 34 games. A pre-season John Mackey Award candidate, Byham has caught just six passes for 76 yards but has retained his role as a standout blocker for the powerful Panthers running game.

    Drew the now infamous unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (which afforded the Panthers a first down rather than a punting situation) on Irish SLB Harrison Smith in last season's come-from-behind win over the Irish.

  • Quarterback – 5th-Year Senior #11 Bill Stull: The 6'3" 215-pound signal-caller has five 4th Quarter comebacks to his credit since the beginning of 2008. Stull, along with Irish QB Jimmy Clausen, is a Davey O'Brien Award semifinalist and Manning Award candidate. He ranks fifth nationally (Clausen is third) in pass efficiency and has thrown for 208 yards per game and 17 total touchdowns (vs. four INT) while completing better than 67 percent of his passes.

    Stull did not play in last year's 36-33 4OT win over the Irish due to injury.

  • Flanker (Z) – 5th-Year Senior #88 Oderick Turner: Has 20 grabs for 215 yards and one touchdown but is certainly the team's third receiving option. At 6'3" 205 pounds, Turner serves as a solid downfield blocker and veteran option for Stull in the short passing game.

    Turner made a critical reception vs. the Irish last season, converting a 4th and 1 with a 37-yard catch and run to set up a Panthers touchdown early in the 2nd Half.

  • Split End (X) – Sophomore #82 Jonathan Baldwin: The heavily recruited Baldwin is a huge target at 6'5" 225 pounds and a major red zone presence on the outside. Baldwin caught the game-tying touchdown in regulation on 4th and Goal last season in Pittsburgh's win in South Bend.

    Has 35 receptions for 698 yards and four scores this season including three games of at least six receptions and four outings in excess of 100 receiving yards. Averaged more than 22 yards per catch last year and is hovering just below 20 per game again this season. Both Baldwin and tight end Dorin Dixon (below) present a major matchup issue on the outside for the Irish secondary on Saturday.

Offensive Linemen

  • Left Tackle – Redshirt-Junior #77 Jason Pinkston: Recruited as a defensive tackle, the 6'4" 305-pound Pinkston has started in 21 consecutive regular season games and 24 overall for the Panthers. Has excellent feet and is the cornerstone of an offensive line that has allowed just nine sacks (12th nationally).
  • Left Guard – Senior #56 Joe Thomas: The veteran has posted 36 career starts through nearly four seasons on the offensive front. Made the switch to the left side (from right guard last season). The 6'5" 290-pound Thomas is a former Freshman 1st Team All America selection by Scout.com.
  • Center – Senior #64 Robb Houser: Former JUCO transfer has started 16 games over two seasons though the 6'2" 285-pound anchor missed last year's contest with the Irish due to a fractured ankle.
  • Right Guard – Senior #74 John Malecki: Boasts 22 career starts and serves as a team captain. At 6'3" 285 pounds, the former defensive tackle (converted in the spring of 2008), Malecki is a masher up front and a key to the Panthers bruising running game and 48 percent conversion rate on 3rd Down this season.
  • Right Tackle– Sophomore #52 Lucas Nix: The 6'6" 300-pounder is in his first season as a full-time starter though he did play in six games in 2008 as a true freshman.

Key Reserves

  • Tight End – Senior #2 Dorin Dickerson: Saturday's X-Factor, Dickerson has posted 10 touchdowns this season as the Panthers hybrid tight end/fullback/Z Receiver. Weis singled out the 6'2" 230-pound weapon as the Panthers most versatile offensive player and the player for whom defenses must account on each snap as he lines up all over the formation.

    Dickerson was named to the mid-season Mackey Award Watch List after catching just 13 passes (for 174 yards and two TD) last season. Has 39 grabs for 450 yards in '09 and ranks first among the nation's tight ends in touchdown receptions, already setting the program's single-season record for the position. Posted 118 yards last week vs. Syracuse, and caught the 4th Quarter, game-tying touchdown vs. Connecticut in Week Six.

  • Running back – Freshman #34 Ray Graham: The 5'9" 185-pound true freshman has amassed 287 yards and three touchdowns as his classmate's chief backfield backup. Graham averages 5.4 yards per carry.
  • Wide Receiver – Redshirt-Freshman #87 Mike Shanahan: 6'5" 220-pounder has seven receptions for 88 yards (12.6 per grab) in his first exposure to the college game. Earned a Week Seven start at South Florida and caught a career-best three passes. Shanahan came through in the clutch vs. UConn in Week Six with a 29-yard catch and run to set up the game-winning field goal.
  • Wide Receiver – 5th-Year Senior #1 Cedric McGee: Another Pittsburgh Captain, the 6'1" 205-pound veteran ran for a 29-yard first down on a reverse last week vs. Syracuse and finished with 56 yards on the ground on two carries vs. the Orange. McGee made his biggest mark on the Panthers season with a two-point conversion catch to tie the score midway through the final period vs. UConn.

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