McCoy, Pitt Offense Shift Gears

In watching LeSean McCoy the past two games for the Pitt football team, one gets the idea that he's about to explode.

Sure, he's been dazzling since a slow start this season with consecutive games where he gained more than 140 yards rushing, but LeSean McCoy appears to be on the verge of an even bigger performance. Maybe more than 200 yards.

McCoy hasn't reached that level, yet, but he has to be close. He had 172 at Michigan State last fall and came back with 165 against Navy, which Pittsburgh plays Oct. 18 at 3:30 p.m. in Annapolis, Md. Then, there was his amazing 38-carry, 148-yard performance at West Virginia. That was special.

McCoy had 149 at Syracuse, while the team had 241 total, and 142 at South Florida. McCoy has 117 carries for 533 yards this season, 4.6 yards per run and 106.6 per game, along with seven touchdowns. He also has 12 catches for 126 yards. Senior LaRod Stephens-Howling has chipped in with 200 yards on 44 attempts and two scores.

"The coaches talked to me, saying that I had to step up,'' McCoy said. "All the big-time players, you have to keep swinging. The coaches have been telling me that. They've been talking to me a lot and telling me to be patient, but I think I do better with more carries. That's when I get going.

"And the switching between me and Hot Rod (Stephens-Howling) has worked out great. It gives me a little blow, and it's a great change of pace for us. But I think the offense is really coming together now. And the offensive line, they're getting stronger as the game goes on. And they're getting better.

"I think our coaches are getting more confident in our running game, too,'' McCoy added. "They're really sticking with it and going to it when we need some tough yards, short-yardage situations, and we're coming through. We're really doing a lot better running the football, especially in the fourth quarter.''

Pitt's win against USF was its third straight fourth-quarter comeback, something it had not done in fourth-year coach Dave Wannstedt's first 30 games. Finally, the Panthers battled back to beat Cincinnati last fall. Pitt used a couple quick-strike drives and big plays to beat USF. There was the 52-yard TD pass from Bill Stull to Jonathan Baldwin to cap a five-play drive. Pitt's final possession lasted just three plays and included a 38-yard toss to Oderick Turner.

"That catch by Oderick, that really fired us up, but we expect that from him,'' McCoy said. "We expect Billy to make that throw and Oderick to make that catch. We're starting to get a little swagger now, I think, on offense. We feel that we can make plays like that all the time, especially in the clutch.

"That drive and catch by Oderick took us in the right direction. Coming here and being in a situation like we've been in lately, that's why I came to Pitt. To be in a game like that, needing a first down on the last drive or a big defensive play, that's what you look forward to and what we expect here at Pitt.''

The Panthers also were able to hammer USF when they needed it and had two scoring drives that controlled the clock, more than a dozen plays and some eight minutes apiece. Pitt pounded it in from close-range as well, as McCoy scored from the 3 and the 6. He also had a spectacular 12-yard run on third-and-nine that helped kill the clock.

Last season, when Pitt lost four games by seven points or less (18 total points), the Panthers failed to score from inside the 10-yard line in road losses to Michigan State, Louisville and Rutgers.

"We're a different team from last year, and that's all I can speak about,'' McCoy said. "We couldn't win those close games last year. We just couldn't find a way to win those close games, but this year we're finding a way to win them. We're playing hard on both sides of the ball later in the games that are close.

"The defense is playing excellent, and the offensive line is blowing other teams off the ball. We're playing excellent on offense, Billy Stull, the wide receivers, everybody on both sides of the ball and on special teams. That a sign of a good team, and we're proving that we're a good team now.''

Wannstedt believed it was only a matter of time for the Pitt offense to come around because the Panthers made changes to its offensive line this season and its coach, as veteran Tony Wise was brought in to mentor the young group.

"Tony's done a great job, (and) we're getting there,'' Wannstedt said. "We're running the ball a lot ... 40-50 times a game. (But) it's not always the average, which is just over three yards a carry, but how much you can do it and make first downs. We've been able to control the ball more lately.

"You've got to throw the ball to score points, which we did (against USF), but you run the ball to win games. And in the fourth quarter, when you've got a lead and have to make first downs, you've got to be able to run the ball to close people out and win games. So, that's what we've done the past few weeks, and I think that does develop a mindset and a sense of confidence.

"You have to recognize the conditioning and mental toughness of our team in the second half,'' Wannstedt added. "It's incredible, how these kids in the fourth quarter just turn it up a notch. Buddy Morris has done a great job with them on that end, but the character part comes out.''

And with a character like McCoy in high gear, the Pitt offense should reach that level as well.

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