The season is just two games old, and there's already a growing concern on the offense. Pitt seemed to have a better second half against New Hampshire, only after opening up the offense to start the half--throwing nine consecutive passes. To get a win against Miami this week, Pitt must continue to throw the ball well. They also must get it together on the offensive line--something that hasn't been seen yet.
Dave Wannstedt wasn't willing to admit that his team needs to throw the ball more to have a successful offense, during his Monday press conference. Perhaps he doesn't want to give too much of his game plan away in public. However, what Miami has seen in film this week, just as everyone did at Heinz Field saw nine days ago, was that Pitt's offense was much more effective using the passing game to set up the run.
"I think we have to be balanced," Wannstedt said, referring to whether we will see more of the run or the pass against Miami. "We really have to be. I like where Tino Sunseri is going, but we have to be careful that we don't fall in a trap."
In addition, if the game plan calls to keep eight or nine guys in the box, Sunseri has enough experience by now to loosen up a defensive game plan, as he proved in the last game. That decision, however, still falls under the head coach. It doesn't sound like it's a matter of confidence--whether there's confidence in Tino Sunseri, Dion Lewis or Ray Graham. Wannstedt is committed to his philosophy, first and foremost. Even though there's evidence that the passing game can help set up the run game, Wannstedt still sounds committed to running the ball first, when it comes to this next game against Miami. He seems hesitant to throw the ball 34 times a game, like he did in this most recent game.
"When you have backs like Dion and Ray Graham back there, we know where we're going with Tino," Wannstedt added. "We know the progress that we're trying to make in the passing game. But our priority in our running game is, ‘where are we going so we can be balanced?' We can't go out and be one-dimensional. We can't go out and win a big game being only one-dimensional."
While he believes in a heavy dose of running the football, any team that does that needs a successful offensive line. Wannstedt wants improvement from his guys up front, first. In addition to the five offensive line spots, he wants the tight ends to be a part of the improved effort as well.
"Number one would have to be that we have to be more efficient up front," Wannstedt said. "When I say up front, you have to include the tight end. What we do is block, so the five offensive linemen, the tight end, the fullback; we're not as efficient as we need to be."
As a result of the bye week, he has felt like the unit has made some progress.
"We tie every play in with the offensive line and the running backs," Wannstedt said. "We go back and talk about each play. We went back and said OK on this play, this is where we're trying to attack the defense, and this is where the soft spot would be. We really had a chance (in the off week) to come back and pull things together with the entire group.
"It's a combination of up front, backs, tight ends, of just getting cleaner. Anytime a guy is turned loose in the backfield, it's because we're not blocking and being as efficient as we should be."
With this much hinging on the offensive line, for Thursday, the group's health appears to be more in order than it was last week. Chris Jacobson went down with a sprained ankle against New Hampshire. Last week, Wannstedt said that Alex Karabin was a little banged up, as well. Jacobson was declared as "feeling better," and according to Wannstedt, practiced Sunday. If Karabin, however, is not able to go for whatever reason, Wannstedt says Jack Lippert has progressed enough, that he could be used if need be.
"He's making progress," Wannstedt said of Lippert. "We're probably trying to squeeze so much out of Jack right now; guard, center. Because of our lack of depth right now, we're asking a lot out of him, probably more than we should be. We really don't have a choice at this point. If something happened to Alex Karabin, he would have to play center, without a doubt. He'd be ready to handle it. Mentally he's fine. It's just some physical things that he's still working on."
Wannstedt said the right guard position is still unsettled. From the sounds of things, there may have been a plan to rotate Ryan Turnley in at right guard, before he had to go in for Jacobson in the last game.
"Last week, with Chris Jacobson getting hurt so quick, we were forced to put Ryan Turnley on the left side, and he didn't get a chance to play on the right," Wannstedt said. "Our right guard position, as is the case with every position on our team, is one where we have a competition going. That's a position that's probably a little more active right now, and Greg Gaskins knows that. We're just trying to get the best player on the field, and right now it hasn't really been solidified."