Fumbleitis

LeSean McCoy has displayed many attributes during the 17 games he's played for the Pitt football team with speed, elusiveness and physicality among them.

One that the sophomore tailback wishes would stop is a penchant for fumbling. LeSean McCoy has lost three fumbles for Pittsburgh (4-1) already this season, and there were several last fall that hampered the Panthers' offense at times.

And as No. 24 Pitt wrapped up its bye week before a game against Navy (4-2) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Annapolis, Md., McCoy once again was reminded about times he has put the ball on the ground. The most recent was at South Florida.

"It's my fault, and I just have to hold onto it a lot tighter,'' McCoy said. "I was getting kind of lackadaisical with it, and that shouldn't happen. But after that, I definitely ran a lot harder to get the tough yards. But I shouldn't fumble in the first place.''

That's certainly the way Pitt running backs coach David Walker looked at it.

"Turnovers are a big part of the game,'' Walker said. "They can kill drives and help get you beat. We can't have them. We're always preaching ball security around here, and Shady knows that. He has to learn to wrap it up, especially when there's contact. And with Shady, everybody's looking to strip him.''

McCoy, who already had lost fumbles against Bowling Green and Iowa this season, let one get away on just his fourth carry during the second quarter at USF. Thanks to a strong defensive effort by the Panthers, South Florida didn't get any points off the miscue.

McCoy appeared to be rejuvenated and certainly more motivated after that. He led the Panthers on a long scoring drive during their next possession with eight carries for 49 yards. He capped the 16-play, 72-yard drive with a dazzling six-yard touchdown run to help Pitt pad its first-half lead in the stunning 26-21 upset win against the 10th-ranked Bulls.

McCoy hesitated a bit when asked if the fumble turned things around for him.

"I don't want to say that the fumble motivated me, but it's kind of true,'' McCoy said. "After that fumble, I don't know if I got mad or what, but it shouldn't happen. And I was very determined to make up for it.''

McCoy's first-half performance keyed a Pitt offense that moved the ball on the ground against a team that led the Big East in rushing defense. And he finished with 142 yards on 28 carries, his second straight game with more than 140.

"When we scouted them, we came up with the game plan to go right at them,'' McCoy said. "They were a fast team and were physical, but we wanted to be more physical. Their defensive line, they're really talented, but we had a good first half. And that really gave us confidence that we'd be able to run the ball.

"Also, when you have a player like Jonathan Baldwin, their corners were sitting up (at the line) on every play, but he made them move off there. They backed off the box, so when you have a kid like that who can stretch the field, it's a blessing. It helps our running game, and it makes us a better offense.''

McCoy also believed that offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh would continue to mix in various screen and shovel passes to loosen up opposing defense to keep the offense rolling. With improved play from quarterback Bill Stull, Pitt's offense could be quite formidable during the season's second half.

And that includes some tough running by McCoy.

"I'm just starting to get my swagger back a bit, and I'm really getting more comfortable,'' McCoy said. "And our offense line is definitely clicking better. So, the blocking is better, and Coach Cav has been calling some great plays. So, we've really been clicking a lot better on offense. It isn't just me.''

Now that the Panthers are back in the national rankings, they're on the way up. Right? McCoy was cautiously optimistic.

"We know what it feels like, because we were ranked before, but we also know that it can go away pretty quick if we don't stay on point,'' McCoy said. "So, we want to stay ranked this time, and the best way to do that is to think that every game is a big game. And Navy's the next big game for us.

"(So), where we go from here is what's really important. We need to keep it rolling. ... We're at the top of the Big East, and we want to stay there. We control our own destiny, but I almost wish we were second and playing to get to first. The loss against Bowling Green, I think that helped us out and helped us get focused. Our attitudes have been great since then.''

And so has McCoy's, even though there have been some bumps in the road.

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