Stull Stands Tall

Pitt's rallying cry before this season was "Prove It,'' a charge to prove that last year's ending win against West Virginia wasn't just a one shot deal, that the Panthers are making strides and are on the verge of something special.

After a stunning 26-21 win against No. 10 South Florida Thursday night, in front of a raucous Raymond James Stadium crowd in Tampa, Fla., Pittsburgh has proven several things. LeSean McCoy is a class back, certainly among the Big East's best, if not the nation. He had a lot of tough yards.

The Panthers also proved that their offensive line isn't that bad and certainly appears to be improving weekly. The interior players are ferocious run-blockers, and tackles Jason Pinkston and Joe Thomas played their best games by far. The defense can bend, but make big plays when necessary and just needs to force a few more turnovers to win that battle.

And redshirt junior quarterback Bill Stull, while not the most consistent or strong-armed quarterback to play for Pitt in recent years, certainly is among the toughest. He has battled this season through harsh criticism from Pitt fans and through some physical beatings by the opposition, but he has kept the Panthers in games until their conditioning wins out in the fourth quarter like it did against South Florida for a third straight comeback win.

"We were able to prove to people that we are a darn good football team,'' Stull said early Friday afternoon, still glowing from the huge win. "We were saying throughout the week that the stage was set for a big game, but if we went out and played Pitt football and not force anything that we would be all right.

"So, we wanted to establish our running game, and our big hogs up front played a heckuva game. The offensive line, I definitely think it was their best game this season. They took it upon themselves to smack USF in the mouth. They were talking all week about how their run defense was so good and that we weren't going to run all over them, but ... I know our guys up front took that personally and it was a big concern for them to prove that on national TV.

"Defensively,'' Stull added, "we played well, but we gave up that one long drive at the end. Fortunately, like they've done for us many times. We were able to pick them up. When we scored on three plays in about a minute, we were joking that we probably scored too fast. We're not used to that, but ... we knew that our defense would come back at the end. Both sides stepped up.''

Like many after the game, Stull gave high marks to his offensive line, but he graded himself fairly low in comparison.

"I'm my worst critic, very hard on myself and how I grade myself as a quarterback,'' Stull said. "But when the opportunity was there for me to make some plays, I missed a few. There was a play where Ced McGee was open, and I overthrew him. I make those throws in practice every day. ... It was one of those things where he was too open, and I just didn't put it on him.

"I tried to lead him, but he was too wide open and I didn't make the play. (But) we won, so that's all that matters. The comebacks, I'm going to have to give my credit for that to the guys up front. Week in and week out, they're going to set the tempo of the game and throughout it until the last snap in the fourth quarter. And they proved it once again this week.

"They proved that they're the guys who should be getting all the credit,'' Stull added. "They're playing great football. (And) we're in great shape. After the third quarter, our whole offense ran down to the other end to start the fourth quarter. And I know we'll be in even better shape after these bye weeks. We'll have some conditioning days. That's for sure.''

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt believed that Stull started to loosen up a bit after he connected with freshman Jonathan Baldwin for a long touchdown.

"It was huge,'' Wannstedt said. "We talked to the players earlier in the week about being aggressive and throwing the ball downfield. So, that was a great catch by Baldwin, but I believe it was a confidence-builder for Billy. ... We knew we were going to have to score some points with Matt Grothe out there, and we believed we had to score in the high 20s. And that's how it unfolded.''

The only update on WR Derek Kinder is that he "tweaked an ankle,'' but Wannstedt believed he would be ready for Pitt's next game with Navy Oct. 18 at 3:30 p.m. in Annapolis, Md.

Wannstedt added that Pitt's assistant coaches will be recruiting this weekend, but the Panthers won't return to practice until Tuesday and will go through Friday next week. There is a 16-day layoff between games for Pitt.

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