Pittsburgh, 8-3 going into its regular-season finale with Connecticut (7-4) Saturday at noon at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., has not been that sharp offensively in recent games. Bill Stull had three interceptions and a completion rate at barely 50 percent in those contests.
Against West Virginia last week, Stull was especially inconsistent with two picks and several missed throws, as the Panthers were forced to run the ball to move the sticks. During the final game-winning drive, there were on passes called and nine LeSean McCoy runs in the 10 plays.
"I think my confidence has always been there,'' Stull said. "However, there have been a few mental mistakes and a few physical, just bad throws. One physical throw was the fade I threw to Baldwin. It was just a bad throw. That's on me. The other one, I was trying to throw to Kinder, but I didn't see the corner.
"I thought he was going to do something else, and obviously it ended up being a bad decision. But that's the beauty of having 10 other guys having your back. Our defense stepped up and played a heckuva football game.''
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt was pleased that Stull was a stand-up guy despite his trials and tribulations this season. He believed each game should be judged separately and not lumped together when discussing Stull and the offense.
"I think it's a little bit physical with Bill,'' Wannstedt said. "Everything comes with success. We had success, I'm going back here now against Louisville. All it takes is one game. We go up and struggle against Cincinnati for several reasons. Unfortunately the quarterback is, as we say, going to get more credit than he deserves when the team plays well and more negativity and blame than he deserves when things don't go well.
"That's part of being a quarterback. I think that when you have a first-year starting quarterback like Billy is, he's dealing with that right now. He's trying to work his way through it. He is more than capable of hitting the fullback in the flat, but we don't hit him. He has to set his feet and get the ball up. He makes that throw 10 times a day in practice. The other thing, of course, is making good decisions. Not forcing the football and managing the team are things he has to do, and he understands that.''
Wannstedt cited a pass Stull connected to Kinder and one to Nate Byham. After a couple incompletions and eventually the interception in the end zone, Stull apparently lost some confidence. However, Wannstedt would not characterize his play as struggling. He also did not believe that several injuries Stull suffered this season affected his play.
"Anytime you're struggling in the passing game,'' Wannstedt said, "it's ... always due to a combination of things. It's never one guy's fault. Billy knows he has to get better, and he's had a good week in practice. He's been focused, and he'll play better this week.
"The players believe in him, and he works as hard as any player on our team to get better each week. He can make the throws, but ... as coaches we have to make sure that we're doing things that he can do. For us to score points, we have to throw the ball and score in the 20s and 30s.''
Wannstedt also noted that there were at least a handful of dropped passes at Cincinnati, as well as mistakes on the line, and several drops against WVU. Stull wouldn't blame his receivers, though. He shouldered all of it, but didn't believe it was impossible for him to turn things around.
"I think that the mistakes I've made are very correctable,'' Stull said. "So, I need to put it on myself to watch more film and makes those throws. And if I don't make those throws in practice, then I need to say 'hold on coach, let's do that again until I get it right so it doesn't happen in a game.'
"If we're out of sync, I take that on my part. It's on me, and I've got to make sure that we're in sync because it's my job to get the ball to our talented receivers. I don't know if we are, but we're looking pretty good this week in practice, and I think you'll see that we'll be more in sync.''
Junior tight end Byham agreed.
"There's nothing he can't change that's holding him back,'' Byham said. "I can see him bouncing back very easily this week, and I think he will bounce back. He's a good football player, and I don't think he's going to let anything bother him. I'm sure he'll work hard this week and get back on track.
"And his performance definitely will be important, because this is a very good defense we're going against. They won't give up many yards on the ground. We're going to try to pound the ball, obviously, but we're going to need to move the ball in the air, too.''
So, Stull and the Pitt passing game will need to turn things around immediately.
Bill Stull Blues
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