Pitt football-South Florida Press Conference

The University of Pittsburgh football team will venture to Florida to take on the much improved South Florida Bulls on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. Pitt, fresh off a loss to Rutgers, eagerly awaits another opportunity to get back into the win column. PantherDigest.com Senior Writer Dale Grdnic provides PantherDigest.com insight into Coach Wannstedt's recent press conference.

PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh football team had a bye week before getting back in action Monday to prepare for its final four games this season, and the time off allowed second-year coach Dave Wannstedt to do some soul-searching and self-evaluation.

After taking into account what the Panthers (6-2 overall, 2-1 in the Big East) have accomplished going into the Conference game against South Florida (5-3, 1-2) Saturday at noon at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., Wannstedt offered the following assessment.

"When you look at the statistics, where we're ranked in certain categories, you have to say that we're a pretty good football team,'' Wannstedt said. "To be nationally ranked in the top 15 and some other ones in the Big East, that gives us a chance to win. On the other hand, that's what we didn't do (against Rutgers), and that's why we didn't win.''

Wannstedt doesn't watch much football on television and said he really wasn't good at doing things around the house, either, but he was able to determine what Pitt needs to work on to be successful down the stretch.

"We need to get back to doing what we did earlier, why we won,'' Wannstedt said. "But I'm not happy with where we're at. Nobody is. You always see yourself as having an opportunity to get better, but we've got four games left, and we want to play our best football at the very end.

"So, the key is to get back on track this week and pick up where we were when we started the season. ... We've got a (third) of the season left, two games on the road and two at home, and there's a lot that can happen in a positive way if we get back to the mindset that we had for Virginia.''

The Panthers are in the top three in 13 team categories in the Big East, and they lead in pass efficiency (183.2 rating), kickoff returns (29.0 yards per return), penalties (just 40.1 yards per game) and conversions (35-for-35 on extra points). They also are in the top 15 in the nation in eight categories, including second in passing efficiency, third in kickoff returns and fourth with just three passes intercepted.

Fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Palko has been efficient all season and has led the offense with nearly a 70-percent completion rate for more than 1,800 passing yards and 18 touchdowns with just three picks. Senior H.B. Blades has been the top defensive player. From his middle linebacker spot, Blades has averaged 12.13 tackles per game to rank third nationally.

"We just have to get back to the basics, to get back to what got us six wins and what got us to play successful football,'' Palko said. "And that's just being sound, playing mistake-free football. It might not be flashy, but that's what we need to get back to this week.''

Junior wideout Derek Kinder, Pitt's top pass-catcher with 33 for 596 yards and six touchdowns, agreed with his quarterback.

"This last week has helped us go back to the fundamentals, because these last four games are big,'' Kinder said. "So, if we can go out and play the best games that we play, we can make a strong push down the stretch and go out this season with doing a good job.''

* Kinder is among 14 semifinalists for the 2006 Biletnikoff Award, annually presented to the nation's top wideout. Former Panthers Larry Fitzgerald (2003) and Antonio Bryant (2000) won the award.

"I'd be lying to you if I said that it wasn't a surprise,'' Kinder said. "I was was watching ESPN Thursday night at home (his campus apartment), the Clemson-Virginia game, and I was eager to see who was on the list.''

* Kinder tops all Big East receivers in total receiving yards, receiving yards per game (74.5 avg.) and touchdown catches. Kinder also ranks 18th nationally in total receiving yards and 28th in receiving yards per game. His six TD catches are the sixth-highest total.

"That's awesome for Derek,'' Palko said. "He epitomizes what a college football player is all about. He started out as a running back, and you really didn't know what direction he'd take. Then, he worked his way into the starting lineup and has just flourished.

"And I truly believe that he has not even scratched the surface on what kind of player he can be, and that's the exciting part about it. He's a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, and he's not even played his best football yet. So, that's just awesome for him.

"And if anybody on this team deserves to be on an award list, it's him,'' Palko added, "because he's a humble kid who has worked his tail off to get where he is. And he's been a great leader for us on offense.''

* Kinder said that Palko told him not to expect more passes just because he's on an awards list. And he's just the latest Pitt player to be named as a candidate for a national award. Blades is a semifinalist for the Butkus Award (top linebacker) and Chuck Bednarik Award (top defensive player) and additionally was selected a quarterfinalist for the Lott Trophy (top defensive player). Palko is a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award as the nation's outstanding player. Additionally, Wannstedt is a semifinalist for the George Munger Award presented to the collegiate coach of the year.

* Pitt's offense regained redshirt freshman Craig Bokor as the backup at left guard, but the defensive line lost redshirt frosh Mick Williams to season-ending shoulder surgery. "(Williams) had surgery Friday, and it was successful,'' Wannstedt said. "And that's very unfortunate. Coming out of training camp, I had him slotted as a starter for us (at DT), and I thought he'd make some strides, which he was doing.

"You look at him and (DE Doug) Fulmer, two starters on our young defensive line, and we didn't get many opportunities to use them or play them. And that's tough. Both redshirted a year ago. Doug played three games, and Mick really was a spot player (due to injuries). And that's what bothers me.''

* Wannstedt added that freshman Jason Pinkston and redshirt sophomore Chase Clowser are interchangeable as the backup offensive tackles, but Pinkston would be the first one off the bench.

* And even though Pitt is young at safety after starters Mike Phillips and Sam Bryant, talented frosh Elijah Fields is "a work in progress'' and probably won't get much more playing time than he has to this point.


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