Pittsburgh didn't need nearly as many, but almost reached the plateau anyway.
Pitt's offense rolled to 499 total yards, including a season-high 156 rushing and three touchdowns on 18 carries by LeSean McCoy, in a 42-21 win against the Midshipmen before a record 37,970 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Wannstedt picked 50 as a benchmark this season because that's what No. 23 Pitt (5-1) needed to beat Navy (4-3) last year at Heinz Field. The Midshipmen won that game 48-45 in double overtime, rushing for 331 yards, but got 194 this year (40 on one play) after averaging 313.5 per game.
"I thought (defensive coordinator) Phil (Bennett) did a great job researching these guys,'' Wannstedt said. "We knew we had to stop the fullback, which we did. I think we kept it simple. We weren't as complicated (defensively) as we were a year ago.''
Neither quarterback Bill Stull nor freshman receiver Jonathan Baldwin played in that game last year, but each made his presence felt this year. Of Stull's 255 passing yards, 101 went to Baldwin on three receptions, including a 60-yard touchdown toss in the fourth quarter. It was Baldwin's first 100-yard game. The Panthers have not had a wideout reach that mark since Oderick Turner had 130 against The Citadel in 2006.
The real workhorse, though, was McCoy. He nearly had Tony Dorsett's mark of 180 rushing yards in a game at Navy in 1976 and might have caught it if not for something else he caught -- a chest cold.
"Yeah, I couldn't breathe,'' McCoy said. "I was gasping for air. … I couldn't really get in there too much.''
But it was enough. Pitt and McCoy didn't waste any time setting the tone for the evening. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Panthers marched 74 yards on 11 plays in 4:54, ending the drive with a six-yard run by LaRod Stephens-Howling. McCoy rushed four times in the drive and set up Stephens-Howling's touchdown, taking a screen pass from Stull 34 yards to the 6.
That marked only the third time in seven games that Navy allowed an opponent to score on its first offensive drive. The previous two times -- against Ball State and Duke -- both ended in losses.
But Navy didn't seem to have any problem keeping up, even with Jarod Bryant starting at quarterback for Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who dressed but didn't play (hamstring). That didn't seem to matter early, because the patented Navy triple option was effective as ever. On the sixth play of the drive, running back Shun White took a boundary pitch from Bryant 40 yards, nearly untouched, to the end zone to tie the score.
"We gave up the long play on the touchdown, and the timing just wasn't right,'' Wannstedt said. "We had a couple guys who got chopped on the play, and (Navy) executed well.''
The Panthers took control after that. Stull connected for 43 yards with Baldwin, who was wide open down the left sideline thanks to a double-move pulling a double move. Three McCoy rushes later, and Pitt regained the lead, 14-7.
Bryant's inexperience began to show. On a first-down pass attempt on Navy's ensuing possession, Bryant stood still in the pocket long enough for Jabaal Sheard to sack him and force a fumble that Gus Mustakas recovered at Navy's 17. Mustakas started for defensive tackle Mick Williams. It was his first start since Pitt's game against Grambling on Sept. 8, 2007, when he suffered a season-ending left knee injury. Williams suffered a concussion in practice a couple days earlier.
"It felt real good,'' Mustakas said. "The last week of practice was by far my best week of practice. … And my knee felt real good. It felt good to come into an exciting game like this and feel good for the first time in a while.''
Pitt scored shortly after with Stephens-Howling's second touchdown, a nine-yarder, and had a third-and-goal on the 10th play of its next drive after forcing Navy to go three-and-out. But Stull forced a throw to T.J. Porter at the goal line, and Rashawn King read it perfectly. He jumped the route, intercepted the pass and returned in 91 yards to the Pitt 8. Bryant ran it in on the next play.
But that really didn't change the momentum much.
Pitt's next drive went 49 yards on seven plays, capped by an 11-yard McCoy touchdown run. Pitt and Navy traded punts, until Pitt got the ball back at its own 42 with 1:16 remaining in the half. McCoy ran the first play up the middle for 58 yards and his third touchdown.
So, Pitt led 35-14 at the half, scoring more points than it did in any previous game this season. McCoy rushed 14 times for 128 yards and three scores. Pitt ran twice as many plays as Navy and out-gained it, 354-116, and controlled the ball for 19:38 -- nearly two-thirds of the game time. All that in one half.
"Offensively, when you hold the ball for 20 minutes, and they only have it for 10 at halftime, you know you're doing some good things,'' Wannstedt said.
While the Pitt offense impressed in the first half, the Panthers defense protected the victory in the second. Pitt stopped a near six-minute Navy scoring drive at the end of the third quarter at its own 43 when Bryant's fourth pass attempt of the game, his only in the third quarter, fell incomplete on fourth down.
As if that weren't enough, Stull threw again to Baldwin on third down in the next drive. Baldwin got behind the defense, and Stull laid the ball out there for a 60-yard touchdown to give Pitt a 42-14 lead.
Senior fullback Conredge Collins, who ran nine times for 50 yards, replaced McCoy at tailback in the second half with redshirt freshman Henry Hynoski at fullback. Collins ran hard, but fumbled deep in Navy territory. The Pitt defense got the ball back, however, as safety Dom DeCicco had an interception.
Interestingly enough, Wannstedt put in backup quarterback Pat Bostick to take a final few snaps. They were his first this season, which many believed would result in a redshirt. When asked if he was concerned about burning a possible redshirt for Bostick instead of saving a year of eligibility, Wannstedt responded with a no. He indicated that Bostick is Pitt's backup and will not redshirt.
Navy scored a real late touchdown on Pitt's second-teamers, but that didn't dampen the Panthers' celebration one bit.
"Our line played excellent today,'' McCoy said. "Billy Stull, man, he showed up today. Our receivers, Jonathan Baldwin, our freshman ... he played tremendous. So, it really was a team effort. Our offense really played well.''
But Wannstedt refused to look too far ahead.
"We've got Rutgers next week, and we've got to find out if we're capable of winning that one. I wouldn't fall into that trap. You're trying to trap me. ... We're just taking them one at a time right now.''
Pitt faces Rutgers, which knocked off Connecticut, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.
Pitt Scuttles Navy, 42-21
Panther More Top Stories
Ex-BC cornerback commit talks Pitt OVWindsor (Conn.) High cornerback Jason Pinnock, a one-time Boston College commit, has Pitt high on his list after an official visit.
Scout FootballYesterday at 10:50 AM
DE with ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 offers at PittA standout defensive end from Maryland will decide between Pitt, Duke, Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Rutgers and Baylor. He's visiting Pitt this weekend.
Scout FootballFriday at 8:00 AM
Pitt chasing Penn State for 2018 No. 31 WRHarrisburg (Pa.) High class of 2018 receiver Shaquon Anderson-Butts, a member of the Scout 300, holds a Pitt offer. He talks about a recent Oregon offer, and where his recruitment…
Scout FootballThursday at 11:50 AM
Pitt in contention for many east prospectsA look at where recruiting stands with key prospects in the East Region's 2017 class
Scout FootballTuesday at 11:00 AM