Pitt football press conference - Toledo Game

The University of Pittsburgh is primed for revenge when they play the Toledo Rockets this Saturday. Senior writer Dale Grdnic reports on Head Coach Dave Wannstedt's press conference on the Panthers match up against Toledo.

PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh's offense probably won't be dubbed "Air Wannstedt'' anytime soon, but through four games this season the Panthers (3-1) lead the nation in passing efficiency with quarterback Tyler Palko tops in that category and touchdown passes.

The "Wide Receiver U.'' moniker could make a return visit as well, because junior wideout Derek Kinder leads the NCAA in total receiving yards and receiving yards per game in just his first full season as a starter.

These results appear to be in stark contrast to what second-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said was their offensive philosophy when they returned to coach their alma mater last year, but Palko has tried to set the record straight

"The West Coast offense that Coach Cavanaugh has installed is the same offense that if you go back to Bill Walsh's playbook (with the NFL's 49ers),'' Palko said, "open it up and look at the routes and the drawings, that's basically the same routes you're going to see that our offense runs.

"It's a West Coast system based on timing, running the ball before you pass and being efficient. But when you have guys like San Francisco did in Jerry Rice and John Taylor and Roger Craig, they made a couple big plays. So, the big plays are there, but it's really all about being efficient and making sure the guys are in the right spot at the right time to get them the ball. "(But) it just takes time for things to jell,'' Palko said. "It's a system-based offense, and when our guys get it -- and they're close to making that progress, you're going to see a lot of efficient pass plays and run plays on offense. There's no better offense to run than one that's efficient.''

Palko was extremely efficient against The Citadel last week with more than an 88-percent completion rate for 313 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He is 71-for-107 (66.4 percent) for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns with just three interceptions and a 187.25 passer efficiency rating this season. Palko's performance earned him Big East offensive player of the week honors. Wannstedt hopes to be just as good against Mid-American Conference foe Toledo (2-2) Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.

"Tyler played real smart, and he's been playing very efficient from the quarterback position,'' Wannstedt said. "When that happens and you're not turning the football over, you're going to have a chance. The other thing that's been good is our offensive continues to protect the quarterback. "It all fits together. When you have time to throw the ball and you have a good quarterback, you're going to have opportunities to make plays. That's what has kind of happened with us so far this season.''

While he doesn't have Rice and Taylor, Palko does have Kinder and speedy redshirt freshman Oderick Turner at wideout, and both should help him keep the passing game flying. Turner lit up The Citadel with five catches for 130 yards and one score, and he has 13 catches for 272 yards (20.9) and three touchdowns this season. Kinder had just four catches for 75 yards in a half against the Bulldogs, but he has 20 catches for 445 yards (22.2) and five scores through four games.

"Derek hasn't even scratched the surface of what he can do, but you probably don't believe me because he's leading the nation in receiving right now,'' Palko said. "But he can only get better as a receiver.

"And he's only going to continue to improve. ... I'm happy and excited for him because he's getting national recognition, but he worked his tail off for it and surely deserves all the recognition he's getting.'' Even though Pitt's passing game is flying high, Palko said Wannstedt -- as a defensive-minded coach -- will continue to try to run the ball.

"He has the mentality of run first because that's the way defensive coaches are,'' Palko said. "They want to take a three-hour game and shrink it to one hour. Keep running the ball. Move the chains and keep the ball inbounds and let's just get out of here and win 2-0 if we can. That's their mentality.'' But as long as Palko and the Pitt passing game lead the nation, don't expect Wannstedt to abandon it any time soon.

* Starting DE Doug Fulmer will have left ankle surgery Wednesday and be lost for the season, but he could be back by spring drills.

"It's really a serious shame because the kid worked so hard to win a starting job,'' Wannstedt said. "He worked so hard to really put himself in position to really have an outstanding year. It's very unfortunate. We played McKenzie Mathews last week. He'll continue to mix into the depth chart.''

* Former starter Chris McKillop will open at right DE, while Joe Clermond is on the left. Both are redshirt juniors. The backups are fifth-year senior Charles Sallet and freshman McKenzie Mathews, who played some last week, while fifth-year senior Vernon Botts will move back to end from tackle.

"Chris is a starter for us,'' Wannstedt said. "We felt like Doug would come on, but the guy who's really been a pleasant surprise is Joe Clermond. Joe played the best of anyone on our defense. In fact, he was our (coaching staff) defensive player of the week. He has been consistent every week, making very few mistakes and making plays. So between him and Chris McKillop we felt like we had two starters there.

"McKenzie will be in the rotation, probably play about half the game. It was a good game to get his feet wet. He has a lot of room for improvement and he will. The thing about McKenzie is he's a very intelligent player, you don't have to tell him things many times, and he figures it out pretty quick.

"He's coming from a program in Syracuse (Christian Brothers Academy) that has played at a very high caliber, usually ranked in the top-20 in the nation,'' Wannstedt added. "(It's) similar to Central Catholic, a private school that plays great football and he's been coached well, so he has a chance to bridge that gap a little quicker than others might.''

* Wannstedt believed the DT spot was deeper this year as well."We hope to get Mick Williams back this week,'' Wannstedt said. "We held him last week. He banged up his shoulder a little bit. (John) Malecki's playing better. Gus Mustakas is playing real good, and Rashaad (Duncan) is playing good. ... I wish a couple guys would really jump ahead of the pack, but that hasn't happened. Gus has probably been the most consistent.''

* Wannstedt is still displeased with the running game. He believes the offensive line has played well, and the running backs have been good -- despite being young -- but there have been no big plays.

* The line hasn't sustained blocks as long as it needs to for that to happen, but it has done a nice job in pass-blocking. Wannstedt noted that there were several other reasons for success in the passing game. "Tyler's not holding the ball as long,'' Wannstedt said. "Our offensive scheme has become a little bit more quarterback friendly.

"We're not sitting back there holding the ball. We haven't eliminated all of our deep-drop, seven-step passing game but we don't have much of it in. So, we've got to give credit there to Matt and the coaches.'' * Wannstedt, however, has been pleased with the running backs, frosh Kevin Collier in particular, in his first extended action against The Citadel.

"Kevin played good,'' Wannstedt said. "It was an opportunity to evaluate him. A few mental mistakes on protections, but I thought he ran hard and protected the ball. He was a little bit conservative. There were probably a few more yards to be had. He didn't try to do anything fancy, but he protected the ball well. He was smart I think, for his first time playing.''

* Wannstedt noted that Collier and redshirt freshman Shane Brooks will split time behind sophomore starter LaRod Stephens-Howling.

"I love LaRod,'' Wannstedt said. "(He) gets the most of what's there. Very seldom do you ever watch a play of LaRod and say I wish he would have gotten two more yards. He is a tough runner, and he can take it the distance if he breaks one. ... But we have to be careful because they're all so young.''

* Wannstedt said sophomore OLB Tommie Campbell attended study hall Sunday and will practice this week, but a starter at weak-side linebacker won't be named until before the Toledo game. Fifth-year senior Brian Bennett started for the suspended Campbell against The Citadel.

"I thought (Bennett) did very well,'' Wannstedt said. "For his first time playing in a year, (after getting) hurt during last season, I thought he played well. ... (So), we feel good about Brian getting in there and getting playing time. He got out of it healthy, and he made some plays. Tommie is back and ready to go, so we should be a little bit stronger at that position.''

* The Toledo game will be televised nationally by ESPNU with Dave Armstrong (play-by-play) and former Pittsburgh Steelers QB Mike Tomczak (commentary) comprising the broadcast crew. 1.

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