Room For Improvement

As it prepares to face Buffalo Saturday at 6 p.m. at Heinz Field, the Pitt football team is hopeful it's true that the most improvement comes between the first and second games.

Pittsburgh, 0-1 after an opening loss to Bowling Green, needs that to happen in every phase of the game. And the biggest jump should come with quarterback Bill Stull.

"I thought Billy handled it well,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said about Stull's opening-game performance. "The worst thing that could have happened was to put him in that situation, you know. The plan was to throw it 35 times and run it 52. Not what it ended up. That's not us.

"You don't do that with three new linemen, a new quarterback starting just his second game, and that's the situation we put ourselves in. I thought Billy handled it well, and I do expect him to improve. He will, watching the tape and seeing what happened and going out and working on it on the field.''

Stull completed 29 of 51 passes (56.9 percent) for 264 yards with one touchdown, one interception and four sacks. There were about a handful of drops by Stull's receivers, too, but the redshirt junior appeared to be a little nervous and tentative in just his second start.

"There definitely were a lot of learning experiences from that first game,'' Stull said. "It was my first two-minute drill from being behind. We can simulate all those things in practice, but to get out there on game day and go through the two-minute drill ... there was a lot that I need to learn from, and I did that by watching the tape.''

Stull was a strong leader during the offseason and camp, and the Panthers' faith in him has not wavered after one game. Junior tight end Nate Byham has had reliable hands since he arrived at Pitt, and he came through again with five catches for 52 yards against the Falcons. That included a 13-yarder where he out-leaped and out-muscled the defender on a jump-ball from Stull.

"Billy did all right against Bowling Green, but we didn't give him much help as a team,'' Byham said. "I'd like to think that I can be a safety-valve for him. I'm a big target, and I'm pretty physical. I can peel defenders away, so when he needs somebody to bail him out he can throw it up and at the worst get an incomplete pass. I'm not going to let anybody pick it off.

"Offensively, we're going to have to open it up a little bit to make them stay on us and off the line, and I definitely think we have the ability to do that. We had our chances, but we didn't execute. We had some dropped balls, and the protection wasn't always there. But it was our fault for not executing, really. We know it wasn't a lack of ability and effort, but a lack of execution.''

Stull believed Pitt should have finished the game the way it started.

"We came out the first series and were ready to roll, and we scored,'' Stull said. "We'll see what our team's made of this week, but I think we'll be fine.

"Everyone knows that we're going to establish a run game, and then we're going to try to put the ball up in the air. We're confident, like I've said before, with what our coaches tell us to run. But we have to execute better.''

Stull did not complain about the play-calling, and he noted that he has some discretion to change a play at the line if necessary.

"There were a few plays, like when we needed six guys in the box to execute a play, and they brought seven,'' Stull said. "So, I changed that play at the line to try to get to a better play. (And) I do have some liberty to change plays, but I just can't arbitrarily do that or I'll have to explain in detail why. And we practice that throughout the week, so I can do it.

"(But) the reason why we lost the game were turnovers and big plays. We had opportunities, and we missed them. I missed on a couple things here and there, and I take the blame for that. Also, we take the blame on offense for not getting enough plays. Players still have to execute ... and a couple throws were off-target, and they weren't during the week.

"(So), it's on us, because we're out there playing,'' Stull added. "The coaches do their best to make a game plan and call the right plays, but we still have to go out there and do it. We lost the game, the players, we were out there playing the game and have to take responsibility for that. And we do. We know what we messed up on, and we've made the corrections.''

So, there should be a great deal of improvement this week for Pitt.

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