Defense Does The Job

For the third time in as many weeks, Pitt asked its defense to come up with the big play to win the game. And while the defense may have played well down the stretch to help the Panthers take down No. 10 South Florida, 26-21, the offense came through when it mattered most.

Here are some key notes from the big Pittsburgh win.

-- The Pitt offense dominated the South Florida offense in nearly every aspect. It had 30 more rushing yards, 99 more passing yards, 10 more first downs and 13:48 more in possession time. Panthers tailback LeSean McCoy, who ran for 149 yards last week against Syracuse, rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries and added two key first-down runs in the fourth quarter that kept the clock running. He also scored the game-winning TD.

"LeSean had a big night,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "You've got to recognize the conditioning and mental toughness of our team in the second half. It's incredible how these kids, in the fourth quarter, just turn it up another notch. ... I saw a graphic on ESPN today where 80 percent of Shady's yardage has come between the tackles.

"We know he can get on the edge, and we know he can get outside and make plays. But we have been stressing, and what was missing early were those tough, four-yard runs between the tackles. And most of them came from there against South Florida.''

USF hadn't allowed more than 76 yards on the ground all season since giving up that amount to UCF Sept. 6. The Panthers ran for 146 total yards.

-- Thursday night was a game of firsts. Freshman wideout Jonathan Baldwin caught his first career touchdown pass, while safety Dom DeCicco's first-quarter interception of USF quarterback Matt Grothe was the first of his career. Aside from that, linebacker Greg Williams blocked a 42-yard field goal in the second quarter. It was his first career block.

Williams said he was happy to get the block, but was much more excited about the win in his home state.

"I'm just trying to help my team win, no matter what that means,'' Williams said. "Our leaders were there, telling us we (needed) to step up. I just did whatever I could.''

-- Pitt has now blocked four kicks on the season. Pitt hasn't blocked more than four in a season since 1998 when it blocked five. The record, which goes back to 1987, is eight blocks. There's a good chance that's in jeopardy at this point.

-- Pitt senior fullback Conredge Collins was in a two-man set in the Panthers backfield more often than not against USF, and he proved why he is ranked among the nation's top hammers in the backfield. Wannstedt noted his accomplishments this season.

"It's a very difficult thing for him to accept, because everybody wants to get the carries,'' Wannstedt said. "There isn't a back in the country that wouldn't like more carries and more yardage, but Conredge is a special person to accept his role and be the best that he can be for his team. Conredge does that.

"He's on two special teams, a major contributor, four-year starter, and ... I guarantee he's among the best 4-5 fullbacks across the country. He can catch. He can run, and he can block. And when he finishes up here, I believe he'll get a chance to play some in the NFL. So, that's what he needs to focus on.''

-- The Panthers actually worked on the fake punt and pass call that punter Dave Brytus completed, but didn't go for the first down because the fifth-year senior tossed it like a Nerf football. There was no velocity.

"He said that he heard the whistle and the flag was thrown, but we worked so hard on that play,'' Wannstedt said. "And it was there. If we complete that ball, he might still be running. Hopefully, that'll give other teams something to think about in the coming weeks.''

-- Pitt trotted out the Wildcat for the first time this season, and it couldn't have been a more disastrous result. Center Robb Houser snapped the ball over McCoy's head. He was in there beside Collins, but neither could get the ball before it landed for an 18-yard loss. On third-and-28, Stull connected with tight end Nate Byham for a clutch play that changed field position.

"Snapping the ball to Shady or Greg Cross is no different than going to Billy in a shot-gun,'' Wannstedt said. "So, we've done it before, and I'm not sure why we didn't get it done (against USF). So, we do have a lot of things that we're trying to do, and we have to do those things in order to win some more games. We won't get away from them. ... And that pass to Nate was pretty special.''

-- Sophomore Dom DeCicco got the starting nod ahead of redshirt sophomore Elijah Fields at strong safety against USF, but that's not surprising since he played extensively after Fields was burned for a long TD last week at Syracuse. However, when a 15-yard pass was completed in front of DeCicco Thursday night, Fields was pressed into action. The two played together, as well, against USF since Pitt remained in its nickel and dime (passing) defenses quite often.

-- Freshman Antwuan Reed had his redshirted burned at South Florida. The Johnstown, Pa. HS product played in the dime defense as an extra DB and was on the punt-return team. He is the fourth freshman to play this season, along with OT Lucas Nix, WR Jonathan Baldwin and safety Andrew Taglianetti.

-- Raymond James Stadium is where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also play, but former Pitt players Torrie Cox and Antonio Bryant -- currently with the Bucs -- made it feel like home for the Panthers. They were on the sideline during the game cheering on their alma mater.

-- Pitt men's basketball coaches Jamie Dixon and Tom Herrion also were there.

-- It's still all about recruiting for the future, so Pitt will utilize these next couple weeks to pick up the pace on its efforts for the 2009 and 2010 classes.

"The coordinators are in here this morning, but everybody else pretty much is out on the road recruiting,'' Wannstedt said. "We'll give the players off Saturday and Sunday, and we'll get together Monday morning.

"Then, we'll start preparations for Navy. And we'll practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before giving them the weekend off.''

-- Mike Gladysz is the Sports Editor for the Pitt News. Please see his stories on the Panthers at www.pittnews.com.

-- Dale Grdnic, Panther Digest Senior Writer, also contributed to this story.

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