Cavanaugh's play-calling kept the Pitt offense going when the running game sputtered with LeSean McCoy, and he got everyone involved in the Panthers' 41-7 win against Louisville Saturday at Heinz Field.
McCoy, coming off five straight games with 140-plus yards, had negative yardage into the third quarter and finished with 39 yards on 17 carries. But that didn't stop Cavanaugh. He had quarterback Bill Stull throw the ball downfield a half-dozen times and spread the ball, as nine different players caught at least one pass, and there were nine different ball carriers.
"I thought today, offensively, that Matt Cavanaugh, Bill Stull and our passing game picked up the slack in being able to move the ball and score points,'' Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said. "The time of possession, we held it eight minutes longer than they did, and we made it twice on fourth down going for it. And we forced five turnovers. So, that was the difference in the game.''
Pitt unveiled the Wildcat twice on its second series with tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling and eventually scored when he handed off to wideout Aundre Wright, who came around on a reverse from the 7. Actually, Wright had scored on the opening play of the drive, a 76-yard run off a reverse, but a holding call on Cedric McGee held the gain to 20 yards.
Stull also hit wideout Jonathan Baldwin for 36 yards, Pitt's third toss downfield in the first quarter alone. Baldwin also hauled in a 44-yard toss later in the game. They were Baldwin's only two catches, but Stull missed him a couple times as well. Still, he was happy to get the opportunities and thanked Cavanaugh, dispelling any talk about being conservative.
"I heard people say that about Coach Cavanaugh, but I know that he knows what he's doing. He's a good play-caller, and all the coaches and players believe in him and what he's calling. They know that I'm pretty fast, so they give me a chance to go after the ball a couple times a game.''
Baldwin and fellow wideouts Derek Kinder, T.J. Porter and Wright all ran the ball on reverses as well to keep Louisville's defense on its heels. Kinder was the team's possession receiver with four catches for 30 yards, but Stull also just missed him on a long toss down the field.
"Coach Cavanaugh's doing a great job, mixing things up and getting a lot of people involved,'' Kinder said. "And on Shady's pass, I got mine a couple years ago, so I'm good with that. It wasn't the prettiest pass, but he got it done.
"(And) it was nice to see him get something, because he had a tough day running the ball. But the rest of the offense picked him up this week.''
Kinder referred to McCoy finally passing out of the Wildcat. Generally, he has taken the direct snap and run with it. He has rarely, if ever, handed it off to someone else and definitely not thrown a pass like he did against the Cardinals. It was a 14-yard toss to Porter on the opening second-half drive.
"We practiced that the whole week, and I've got a pretty good arm,'' McCoy said. "If Billy gets knocked out again, I might just step in for him. They were blitzing in and pushing everything toward the middle, and that made it tough on us. So, we needed to get around them by throwing the ball.
"Definitely, defenses can't just key on me. You could tell that they had it in their mind to come in here and just not let LeSean do anything. Our line did a great job protecting for the passing game, and ... we were able to pick them apart at times. So, it was a good day for our offense, even though we didn't run the ball all that well.''
Cavanaugh even got the tight ends involved, as Nate Byham, John Pelusi and Dorin Dickerson also caught passes. One of Pelusi's two came as he split out. McGee caught a pass as well, and even though Baldwin has surpassed Oderick Turner as the deep threat, the redshirt junior hauled in 26-yard touchdown pass for his only catch.
"It was neat to get Aundre Wright involved,'' Wannstedt said, "and Jonathan Baldwin made some big plays. ... We threw one up deep on third-and-long, and Baldwin is amazing. He caught that pass, and he ran the ball on a reverse. (And) Oderick Turner, I was real happy to see him go get that ball in the end zone. The tight ends, we got a lot of people involved in the offense.''
And that's something that just doesn't happen when your offensive coordinator is conservative.
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