Pitt Lineup Filled With Freshmen & Sophomores

The Pitt football program is 14-17 since Dave Wannstedt returned to be the head coach at his alma mater, but Wannstedt did not believe that record was indicative of the progress that the team has made during that time and in particular since training camp began this season.

The Panthers (3-5, 1-2 in the Big East) begin a season-ending four-game stretch with Syracuse (2-6, 1-2) Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.

'I know we're better on defense in all phases,'' Wannstedt said Monday. "We haven't popped a big return yet. Our punt return average is up a little bit, our kickoff coverage is good, our punting is good. What have we blocked, four or five kicks this year already? I like where we're at on special teams. I like our field-goal situation and our punting situation.

"Our offensive line has come on, and ... if someone wants to let us run the football, we'll run the football with the best of them. The position, and unfortunately it's the most critical position when you're playing catch up is the quarterback. There's no easy solution for it. If it was easy to line up and play true freshmen every year, everybody would be doing it.''

Pittsburgh started three freshmen -- quarterback Pat Bostick, tailback LeSean McCoy and wideout Maurice Williams and three with sophomore status -- right guard John Bachman, tight end Nate Byham and wideout T.J. Porter. Three defensive players -- cornerback Aaron Berry, tackle Mick Williams and outside linebacker Shane Murray -- also have sophomore eligibility.

"I like the attitude of our team,'' Wannstedt said. "I think were better conditioned, and we're stronger mentally. When it's 14-0 at Louisville at their homecoming game, it's easy to fold your tent with a freshman quarterback and a lot of young kids. The seniors of this team, they just kept plowing, and I like where we're at.

"I think we've made some strides from a mental toughness standpoint in the last few weeks. We were probably better than that earlier, but we didn't have a chance to show it. (Progress) is slow. It's not as fast as I would like, and it's not as fast as anyone would like, but we're dealing with a great group of kids. The attitude for where our record is, 3-5, you wouldn't know it if you watched these kids practice and study and get ready to win.''

One of those senior leaders, right tackle Mike McGlynn, also believed the Panthers were making strides and playing a lot better in recent games.

"I think you want to play the best football that you can play at the end of the season, and I think we're doing that,'' McGlynn said. "Every week, we're getting a little better, and that's what we want to do. We're jelling a little more every week, and it's because we're spending more time together. We're watching film and practicing together, and we're really playing a lot better.

"We've come a long way since the beginning of the year. Coming off a hard loss at Louisville, we felt like we were wearing them out a little bit and had them in the fourth quarter, but coming off a loss like that we can't afford to look too far ahead. We have to take them one at a time and go out there against Syracuse at home and try to get a win.''

That's why Wannstedt won't let the Panthers look past the next game.

"If you're team feels like you're going backwards and you're not making progress and you don't have a chance it's one thing, but our guys don't believe that,'' Wannstedt said. "I think they understand that we were right there with an opportunity to have a chance to tie that game and have a chance to win the game if we could take it to overtime.

"Our focus is Syracuse and just going out there and playing better. I still don't think we have played as good as we can, and a lot will have to do with some of those young kids getting better in a hurry. ... But we're going to keep working hard, and we'll see what happens this week.''

Notes: Mo Williams started because Oderick Turner had a hip flexor injury last week. ... Pitt doesn't have start times for games at Rutgers (Nov. 17), at home to South Florida (Nov. 24) and at West Virginia (Dec. 1). ... The WVU game will be televised by ESPN or ESPN 2. ... Wannstedt said he'll be in the press box again unless he gets the stitches in his Achilles out this week.

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