Passing Game Remains Constricted

After struggling through a four-game losing streak, the Pitt football team has gone 2-1 and played well enough to win all three games, but freshman quarterback Pat Bostick has not thrown for more than 200 yards since tossing for 230 in the second half during a blowout loss to Connecticut.

That was Pat Bostick's first appearance for the Panthers (4-5). His totals the past three weeks have been 167 yards and one touchdown in a win against Cincinnati, 136 in a tough loss at Louisville and 153 with a score in a win against Syracuse. So, he has been fairly productive at Pittsburgh.

However, some believe Pitt might have difficulty winning its final three games -- at Rutgers Saturday at noon, against South Florida Nov. 24 at noon at Heinz Field and at West Virginia Dec. 1 -- if Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh doesn't open things up for Bostick and the passing game.

"I'd say you have an argument if what you want us to do is to get in a bunch of wide-open formations and spread people out and do things that way,'' Cavanaugh said. "But we're the type of team that complements our run game with our pass game. And we don't like to run out of one-back sets.

"We like to use two backs when we run, and a lot of times it might look like our formations are closed down and we constrict things a little bit, but we also did that last year and got a lot of big plays. So, I think our receivers need to get open, and our quarterback needs to get the ball to them.

"So, that's about it,'' Cavanaugh added, "and ... Pat's doing what we've asked him to do. But there's a couple situations where we think he's missed some people that he should've hit and gotten the ball up a little earlier or out in front of them. But, for the most part, he's doing what we're asking of him.''

Primarily, that appears to be a steady dose of sideways passes, bubble screens and tosses to the backs with limited flings downfield. And Bostick, for the most part, appears to have bought into that game plan.

"We've been a ball-control team with our two very talented running backs and good offensive line, but we've hit a couple pass plays for 20-plus yards,'' Bostick said. "The notion is that we need to throw the ball downfield a little more, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that. But the key is to get guys open, let them catch the ball and make plays after the catch.

"You have to take your shots, and we do that. But big plays can come on runs after the catch, and we have guys that are capable of doing that. So, we have to take advantage of that as much as possible, along with our running game, and supplement that with taking our shots down the field.''

Cavanaugh disagreed with the notion that his offense is conservative.

"I think that, if you look at our play-calling, we're definitely taking our shots downfield,'' Cavanaugh said. "That doesn't mean the ball's always getting thrown, but we're certainly making the calls.

"If there's a protection breakdown or (Bostick) decides he has to dump the ball off to get rid of it a little sooner it would show up as a shorter pass. But he's getting plenty of opportunities to put the ball downfield if it's there, and it's all based on complementing our running game. So, the opportunities are there, but sometimes they're just not showing themselves.''

Cavanaugh believed that Bostick is making progress, and he grasps what the Panthers are trying to accomplish on offense. However, Pitt's coaches don't want to put him in a situation where he has to do too much.

"He's still learning, at that position, what every play can bring,'' Cavanaugh said. "For instance, when dropping back with zone coverage and a four-man rush, Pat knows that he probably can get his full drop and full rhythm, make his read and get the ball out.

So, it's not necessarily his recognition, but he's able to adapt to what he recognizes. That's physically doing what he needs to do in response to what he sees. He does a lot of film study, and that helps, but it doesn't always translate into what he needs to do.''

After a rough start, Bostick appears to be settled in at quarterback for the Panthers, and he hasn't made many mistakes in recent games.

"Every week, you experience new things and see new things and are challenged by those things,'' Bostick said, "and that aids in the building of a comfort level.

"So, the more that I'm out there and the more that I go through as a player the more that I'm going to grow. So, the more I get to experience each week, the more comfortable that I get with playing quarterback.''

And quite possibly, eventually, Cavanaugh might open up the offense a little bit more for Bostick and the Panthers.

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