That was the theme of the 85-play scrimmage Saturday afternoon at Pitt's South Side practice facility – the defense knocking the offense backward. And as trend has been in the spring and early season since Dave Wannstedt came to Pitt, that's the way it should be.
"I would have been highly disappointed if our defense didn't come out there and play like they did today," Wannstedt said. "Obviously, the defense pretty much shut us down today. Offensively, we had a tough time blocking those guys."
That was glaring from the second snap the first-team offense took against the full first-team defense. Defensive tackle Tommie Duhart came through the middle and sacked quarterback Bill Stull, the first of five sacks the defense would record. Later in the scrimmage, left end Doug Fulmer beat right tackle Joe Thomas around the end and buried Stull into the ground.
"I just got off on the ball, just really made a good play and it was just there for me," Fulmer said, participating in his first contact in nearly two years. "It's been too long. It felt great."
Wannstedt couldn't quite say the same for the offense, which was still without Chris Jacobson, Jason Pinkston, C.J. Davis, Nate Byham or John Pelusi, none of whom dressed for the scrimmage. That left Dom Williams to start at left guard, John Malecki at right guard and Thomas at right tackle with Robb Houser, a junior college transfer, at center.
"We've got a lot of work to do on the offensive line," Wannstedt said. "We need to get the guys that have played back as fast as we can, Pinkston, C.J. Davis. And we need to get Jacobson out there too."
"That was in my opinion the only thing that happened on offense all day," Wannstedt said. "On one side, you say we hope we're going to be further ahead from the offensive line standpoint, but you expect your defensive line to dominate, and that's what they did, they dominated today."
Not that the offense didn't find other positives in the defense's shadow. Despite being hit and knocked down several times without wearing rib pads, Stull got right back up and took the next snap.
"Considering I haven't been hit since that first game [last season] all in all I felt good to get hit by some of my friends instead of an actually enemy," Stull said. "I kind of forgot we were going to be live. I forgot my rib pads. It was good, but we have a lot of mistakes to clean up."
Some of those mistakes let the defense shine, starting with a Shane Murray interception of Stull on the first series.
"That was a stupid throw on my part," Stull said. Stull completed 9 of 15 passes for 95 yards, two touchdowns, the other to T.J. Porter, and was sacked twice.
Pat Bostick threw the only other interception to redshirt junior cornerback Dan Cafaro, a Virginia Tech transfer who played at Upper St. Clair. Bostick completed 7 of 11 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown, an 18-yard crossing play to first-team tight end Dorin Dickerson, who made a nice catch in the back corner of the end zone to stay in bounds.
"Dorin does, with the ball in his hand, give us a chance to make some plays," Wannstedt said. "I think he should be pleased with his progress after two weeks, because I'm pleased."
Both Scott McKillop and LeSean McCoy were limited to only the first and second series with the first teams. In McKillop's absence, redshirt junior Steve Dell got a chance to shine, and was among Pitt's top tacklers on the day with seven tackles. Dell even got reps with the first-team defense at middle linebacker.
"Steve Dell was a guy that we weren't sure was going to make it physically or not, and he showed up today," Wannstedt said.
Another guy that made several plays on defense was outside linebacker Greg Williams, who led Pitt with eight tackles on the day. Linebacker Brandon Lindsey also recorded five tackles, and safety Dom DeCicco had four, including an interception and a blocked field goal.
"It was nice to come out here and having pretty good results," DeCicco said, who traded reps at free safety with Elijah Fields, who only had one tackle. "Elijah, he's arguably the best athlete on this team. I'd like to think I make him better and he makes me better, it's just good competition."
Quarterback Kevan Smith took reps with the second team offense after Bostick, and completed 6 of 8 passes for 32 yards. Junior college transfer Greg Cross was left to clean-up duty late in the scrimmage, and only attempted one ill-fated incomplete pass. He ran six times for 29 yards.
McCoy only carried the ball four times, which allowed Kevin Collier and Harris to get a lot of reps at running back. Collier got 12 carries, only gaining 17 yards, and Harris gained 23 yards on six carries, the same amount LaRod Stephens-Howling logged, gaining 28 yards on his.
"It was a good day's work, a good first scrimmage," Wannstedt said. "And it gives us a pretty clear picture where we need to go from here."