Pitt football-The Citadel Game Notebook

PantherDigest.com fans are flying high after the Panethers resounding 51-6 victory over Citadel on Saturday. Senior writer Dale Grdnic reports on the post-game reaction from the Panthers plus news and notes.

PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh remained unbeaten against Division I-AA teams, running its record to 6-0 with a resounding 51-6 win against The Citadel in front of 30,069 fans Saturday at Heinz Field.

The Panthers, off to a 3-1 start for the third time in the past five seasons, scored on five of six first-half possessions to roll past the Bulldogs (0-3). Pitt, 1-0 in the Big East, faces Mid-American Conference team Toledo Saturday at noon at Heinz Field, before getting back into its Conference schedule to run out the year.

"We talked all week about bouncing back and getting ready, regardless who the opponent was or where we were playing, and I thought our guys did that,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said.

"Our players really did a good job of coming out ready to play. ... You're supposed to win the ones that you're supposed to, and we expected to win. And our guys came out and made plays.''

Fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Palko made the most plays with 15-for-17 passing for 313 yards and four touchdowns. His 88.2 completion percentage ranks sixth on the Big East's all-time list for a game.

"Accuracy is something that I've really worked hard on, and the guys did a great job giving me time and catching the ball,'' Palko said. "We're not the type of football team that can take anybody for granted.

"We need to continue to keep getting better, and any chance we get to come out and execute (like this) you can get better. And we took a step in the right direction. We should have, but we executed really well.''

Redshirt freshman wideout Oderick Turner benefited the most from Palko's accuracy. He caught five passes for 130 yards and one spectacular 52-yard touchdown catch and run. Pitt, which had a 35-6 advantage at halftime, recorded a safety early in the second half when the snap for a kick sailed over punter Mark Kaspar's head through the end zone.

Turner scored on the first play of the ensuing series. He got single coverage on a deep route and burned the defender.

"It was a choice route with the free safety coming down on a blitz, so the middle of the field was open,'' Turner said. "Tyler put it up there, and I was able to get a step on the guy and make a good read on the ball. I looked it in and did what I could after the fact.''

This really was icing on the cake for the Panthers after a dominant first half. The Citadel had just 85 total yards in the first half, including 31 rushing, but trailed 21-0 before they even got a first down 3:30 into the second. The Bulldogs got the ball when Pitt fumbled near midfield.

The Citadel then proceeded to go on a 13-play drive in 6:28 for its only score. Palko had already thrown scoring passes to wideout Derek Kinder (20 yards) and fullback Conredge Collins (36). Sophomore tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling also ran for a seven-yard score to cap a 10-play, 66-yard drive. The first two scoring drives were less than 1:30 in length each.

"We just wanted to come out and stop them before anything got started,'' Pitt senior middle linebacker H.B. Blades said. "We didn't want them to get any momentum at all. The key was to stop the run and force them to throw the ball. That's what we did, and it turned out very well for us.''

The Panthers executed a perfect gadget play on their next possession. Palko threw the ball out to tight end Darrell Strong to the left, and Strong -- a former high school quarterback -- fired into the end zone to Stephens-Howling for a 30-yard touchdown.

"I already was on the field, and we called the play in the huddle,'' Strong said. "So, I had to take off my gloves in the huddle, and after we broke the huddle I saw my gloves on the ground and thought they saw it, too.

"They didn't see it, and I threw it to LaRod. (But) I've been waiting for that play for three years now. ... I hoped it would be a little farther, but it was only 30 yards. But we got a touchdown, and I'm happy about that.''

Palko executed a perfect two-minute drill on Pitt's next drive, as he hit redshirt sophomore Marcel Pestano for 23 yards, fifth-year senior tight end Steve Buches for 13 and Pestano for 22 for the touchdown in just 32 seconds to close the first-half scoring.

After the safety and Turner's touchdown, freshman tailback Kevin Collier capped the scoring with a dazzling 16-yard touchdown run.

* Tommie Campbell, a sophomore at Pitt, was suspended for The Citadel game Saturday due to violation of team policy. He reportedly missed a study hall and a class last week.

Wannstedt said that Campbell is expected to be back at practice Monday. Fifth-year senior Brian Bennett started at weak-side linebacker for Campbell. Redshirt junior Derron Thomas, who Campbell replaced as a starter this year, also played against the Bulldogs.

"I expect Tommy to be at study hall (today) at 2 o'clock with everybody else, and we'll move forward from there,'' Wannstedt said.

Campbell was moved from safety to outside linebacker this past spring and earned the starting spot in training camp. In three games as a starter, he was third on the team with 19 tackles (12 solo), two stops behind the line and one quarterback hit.

* Palko moved into fourth place among the Panthers' all-time career passers. Palko, a fifth-year senior in his third year as a starter, was 15-for-17 (88.2 percent) for 313 yards and four touchdowns in a little more than a half against the Citadel. He has 6,612 career passing yards.

"You've known me for what, four or five years now,'' Palko said. "I don't worry about (statistics). I'm just here to do what I can to win football games, and everything else will work itself out.''

Palko passed John Congemi (6,467 yards from 1983-86) and is on pace to surpass Rod Rutherford (6,724, 2000-03) in the No. 3 spot. Alex Van Pelt (11,267, 1989-92) is first, and Dan Marino (8,597, 1979-82) is second.

Palko also advanced on the total offense list. He passed and ran past Congemi (6,351) and Tony Dorsett (6,526, 1973-76) into fourth place. Palko has 6,655 total yards (43 rushing). Van Pelt (11,148), Marino (8,320) and Rutherford (7,609) hold the top three spots. Palko has at least eight more regular-season games this year.

* Derek Kinder opened the game as the NCAA leader in receiving yards and was second in receiving yards per game, and Pitt's junior wideout didn't hurt those numbers too much. In just one half against The Citadel, Kinder had four catches for 75 yards and one touchdown.

Kinder has 20 receptions for 445 yards and five touchdowns in four games. He averages 111.2 yards per game and 22.25 yards per catch.

* Redshirt freshman Shane Brooks, who started the second game this season when Stephens-Howling was injured, led the Panthers through three games with 113 yards on 33 carries, but he was the No. 3 tailback against The Citadel and had just one yard on three carries. "Shane didn't run as well as we thought he should have (last week), so we gave Kevin a shot,'' Wannstedt said. "But we'll need them both.''

Freshman Kevin Collier played most of the second half and had 54 yards and his first touchdown on 13 carries.

* Sophomore quarterback Bill Stull played extensively in the second half and was 2-for-4 for 18 yards. Several freshmen also played quite a bit: Collier, CB Aaron Berry, SS Elijah Fields, WR Cedric McGee, TE Nate Byham, OG Joe Thomas and DE McKenzie Mathews, who played a lot when Doug Fulmer hurt an ankle in the first quarter.

* Pitt also used what Wannstedt called an "Elephant'' backfield on one play, as OL Dom Williams and John Simonitis were in as extra blockers for Stull, who blasted ahead for a two-yard run and a first down.

"That's one of (OL coach) Paul Dunn's plays,'' Wannstedt said. "They were still talking about that formation for an hour and a half at 10 o'clock at night, and I went home. I walked out of the building. That was our elephant formation, but when we called it nobody knew who was on the field.''

* A few other blue-chip freshmen did not play.

"(Jason) Pinkston is real close,'' Wannstedt said. "We just moved him to offensive line last week. We walked about it during the game, but you don't want to put these kids in unless you give them a fair opportunity to be successful. ... He will play, and he's going to be a great player for us.

Panther Digest Top Stories