The Pitt offense—specifically the quarterbacks and offensive linemen—have been under close watch for the first two weeks; mainly because of nine sacks allowed in two games with just one total touchdown pass and two interceptions. The offense is not living up to the high-octane predications set before it for 2011.
The defense has not fared much better, as co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is looking for answers. He has a goal of nine tackles for losses and three turnovers for each game. The defense came close in the last game—with eight tackles for losses. The only turnover the defense has forced this season was a Chas Alecxih interception in the season-opener against Buffalo.
Patterson explained the single-most important factor in how a defense gets its edge, in becoming a unit that produces turnovers.
"The thing that we're most disappointed with, is we have to force more turnovers," Patterson said. "We have to be more physical; especially with people trying to run the ball and throw short, underneath passes. We have to be physical, and come up and put your pads on them; getting that ball out. That's definitely something we've focused on this week."
Another area that has been troublesome has been Pitt's secondary—specifically the corners. After the first game, corners like K'Waun Williams were caught playing too far off the ball. At the time, Williams said it was a simple misunderstanding between the new staff and the players—referring to exactly how far off the ball the coaches wanted them.
One of the things lingering from the Buffalo game was the number of plays the Pitt defense was on the field for—93. Saturday, Pitt reversed the field, so to speak. The Panthers—despite its inefficiencies on offense, ran a balanced attack of 90 plays (48 rushing, 42 passing), while Maine ran 71 plays. Maine ran 40 of those plays in the second half, including 28 passes. Maine quarterback Warren Smith completed 18 of those 29 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
The defense forced five three-and-outs in the first half on six total series. Things were looking good, but tailed off in the second half. On seven second half series, the defense allowed three touchdowns, forced three three-and-outs and held the Black Bears on fourth down on another series. Six three-and-outs out of 13 total possessions is not bad, but a significant drop from its play in the first half. Did the defense get worn down again?
"We come out early in the games; we're focused, we're locked in, we have people executing," Patterson said. "As you get tired, sometimes you revert back to things you've done before. You have to make sure you stay and play within the framework of the defense."
Todd Graham praises players often for their work at practice. He mentioned a few names on Wednesday; members of the secondary he feels are progressing this week. He did mention one name that he'd like to see more of—a rarity for as much as Graham likes to praise his players.
"Other than a play or two—we gave up a wheel route in the first two games—it was a critical error; we just blew the coverage," Graham said. "I think K'Waun (Williams) has played well. I think (Antwuan) Reed has played well. I think (Jarred) Holley has played well. I think Jason (Hendricks) has played well at times. He needs to play more consistently and not let up."
Hendricks gave up a 26-yard touchdown catch to Maine tight end Derek Buttles, who led the Black Bears on Saturday with seven catches for 148 yards.
"What's hurt us has been the underneath coverage," Graham added. "At times, we've been too soft on the outside at corner. We have to focus on getting those guys to be real sound about what we're doing."