Sometimes winning ugly can be even more important than cruising to a well-played victory.
That is how Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt sees things as his Panthers cling to a one-game lead in the Big East with the annual Backyard Brawl against West Virginia up next.
"I would just start off by saying that I don't know if we could have challenged ourselves emotionally any more than what we did (Saturday)," Wannstedt said after a 17-10 victory over South Florida. "And by that I mean, our defense played 86 plays because of the pass-interference penalties which were called. We block a punt and then (fumble) the punt, we come after them to block (a punt) and rough the punter. I mean, think of the possessions we gave up, we might have given away 40 plays, or taken away 40 plays from our offense because of just mishaps out there.
"But the great thing, and I mean great, was that our guys, as they have all year, they never wavered, there was never any offense versus defense or coach versus coach, everybody just hung together and kept giving a little more, and we found a way to win the game."
That inventiveness and toughness of character is quite a consolation prize to take out of a game that could have driven a coach crazy with all the mistakes.
Wannstedt, however, knows that character counts, especially when a team is looking at a situation where all it has to do is win its final two games to take the title.
In some ways, this has been a trying year for the Panthers. They lost the Defensive Player of the Year from a season ago, defensive end Greg Romeus, who first required back surgery and then injured a knee. Running back Dion Lewis, who had shown flashes of being the next Tony Dorsett while gaining 1,799 yards as a freshman, got off to a slow start.
Pitt kept chugging away, taking some tough non-conference losses and being banged around hard at Miami, but the team did not waver from the objective, which was winning the Big East.
Now, the season pretty much comes down to the West Virginia game, which is the way it is supposed to be in rivalries.
--Andrew Taglianetti blocked a punt in the third quarter against South Florida. It was his fourth career block and the second this year for Pitt. The Panthers have 24 blocks during coach Dave Wannstedt's time with the program.
--WR Mike Shanahan's 36-yard reception in the third quarter against South Florida was the longest of his career. He also had a 20-yard catch in the midst of a 74-yard scoring drive.
--S Dom DiCicco had one of the best games of his career with nine solo tackles and four assists, matching his career high of 13 tackles.
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Dion Lewis -- He produced a magical run of 22 yards for the touchdown that put Pitt in the lead. Lewis finished the game with 105 yards on 22 carries, a grind-it-out performance that was topped up by a spectacular play. Lewis has been coming on after a slow start and seems to be peaking at just the right time for a stretch run.
KEEP AN EYE ON: FB Henry Hynoski is always overlooked when it comes to the Panthers' offense, but he has been a crucial part of it. Used mostly to block for RBs Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, Hynoski can get the tough yards inside as a change-of-pace runner and by catching an occasional pass. He has 18 receptions for a 7.2-yard average and one touchdown. Hynoski is coming back from a concussion, and the Panthers really need him to make the ground game go.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was thinking, 'Keep grinding,' because I hadn't had a touchdown like that all year. I was going to keep pushing because it was a tie game, and I was thinking we had to get the first down." -- Pitt RB Dion Lewis, quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, on his 22-yard TD run that won the game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: DE Brandon Lindsey continues to play big in place of Greg Romeus. He had a sack Saturday to give him 10 for the season, tying West Virginia's Bruce Irvin for the conference lead. He is the first Pitt player to record 10 sacks in a season since 2007, when Joe Clermond recorded 10.5 sacks. RB Dion Lewis had a 105-yard effort that included a 22-yard run for the game-winning TD. RB Ray Graham continues to make big contributions, as he has all season. Playing behind Lewis, he rushed for 44 yards and caught three passes, one of them for a touchdown.
STILL NEEDS WORK: WR Jon Baldwin is expected to dominate games, but he's had a lot of disappointing days, the latest being Saturday against South Florida when he caught three passes for only 36 yards. CB Antwuan Reed had a rough day against the Bulls, as he was penalized four times for pass interference. For the game, Pitt committed five pass-interference infractions. The Panthers had only seven interference calls all season coming into the game. Reed did redeem himself with an interception on the final play of the day.
--DE Brandon Lindsey has seen to it that Pitt has not missed Greg Romeus, the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East last season who went down with a back injury and then a knee injury.