Bowl Game Preparation Begins

The Pitt football team has had a couple light workouts to prepare for its appearance in the 75th annual Sun Bowl, but business should pick up immensely when the Panthers will get back on the field today through Monday.

Pittsburgh (9-3) faces Oregon State (8-4) Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas. The game can be viewed nationally on CBS-TV.

"We worked Friday, and we ran them on Sunday,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "But it was a big recruiting weekend for us, and we had the (annual team) banquet Sunday night. So, it really was a situation of not (having) enough time. But we'll work them straight through this week.

"(And) we'll actually work them Monday through Monday. So, pretty much straight through, and half of that we'll be work against ourselves to try to get some of the younger kids some work (ones against ones, twos against twos, etc.). Then, we'll get 2-3 days of Oregon State.''

Wannstedt noted that practice sessions this week most assuredly will be at least as intense as the regular-season workouts and maybe even a little more.

"I'd like to scrimmage, but we probably won't,'' Wannstedt said. "We need to take advantage of at least the first part of this week, which we already did. Friday, it was good. Tino Sunseri had a good day.

"And it was good to see Chris Jacobson and Lucas Nix in there. It was an opportunity for us to work some of those young kids, but at the same time keep our edge with the older guys. So, it was a combination practice.''

And it was great for a guy like redshirt freshman outside linebacker Greg Williams to keep his season going. He's playing at a high level now and has a chance to hone his skills even further this season.

"We sat out for about a week now, but we're glad to be back on the practice field,'' Williams said. "We have a tough game against Oregon State, so we need these extra days. I came in behind Adam Gunn, but I had to get in there and play right away. So, I'm still learning on the job, so to speak.

"But I'm glad we get some more time in practice. And we need this extra work to prepare for the game, and we'll still get time off for Christmas. Just a few days, but it'll be nice. And it's a lot better, since we don't have any classes, but this way we can practice and just concentrate on the bowl game.''

Even though the younger players will be involved heavily in these practice sessions, don't expect any changes to Pitt's lineup during the bowl game. Actually, there are some coaches who would prefer it if freshmen would be allowed to play in the bowl game and not have their eligibility effected.

"No, I don't see anything changing in the game,'' Wannstedt said. "It really was a chance to get some of the kids who were redshirted a little bit of work and coaching. ... That would be interesting, real interesting, if freshmen could play.

"It would be, like, kind of starting the next season at the bowl game. That would be neat to get those kids in there. It would be a great reward for them, if you have an opportunity to get them into the (bowl) game.''

While these 11-12 additional practice sessions will be a big help to Pitt's development, Wannstedt noted that having three bye weeks accomplished the same thing.

"And during those byes, even though we weren't scrimmaging, we picked up another 3-4 days of work,'' Wannstedt said. "So, you're looking at another 10-12 practices where a guy like Jonathan Baldwin had an opportunity to run pass routes. And Lucas Nix had a chance to go though some line drills.

"So, I think with all the extra byes that we've had this year, when you compare where we're at with maybe the Big Ten. We just finished up a week ago, and they were finished up before Thanksgiving. So, we had a chance to pick up a lot of extra practices because of the byes.''

Fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop was a true freshman, a scout team player, the last time Pitt played in a bowl game.

"I really don't remember much about it,'' McKillop said. "My responsibilities, as far as that year and this year, are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. But at least I had the experience of going to a bowl game before. We played on national television and got embarrassed. That's one thing that made an impression on me and the other guys on this team who were there.

"We didn't take care of business, but it was a fun experience. I think maybe we had a little too much fun, so we don't want that to happen this time. There's going to be some distractions out there, so we have to stay focused and get prepared for Oregon State.''

And if Wannstedt has his way, focus won't be a problem this week.

Notes: There were several awards handed out at Pitt's annual banquet Sunday. Freshman running back Chris Burns (offense), freshman middle linebacker Shayne Hale (defense) and defensive back Marco Pecora (special teams) were scout team players of the year. Senior center C.J. Davis (offense) and senior nose tackle Rashaad Duncan (defense) were the linemen of the year. The Iron Man Award for dedication in the weight room went to senior running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (offense), McKillop (defense) and fifth-year senior outside linebacker Austin Ransom (special teams). The most-improved players were junior guard John Malecki (offense), Ransom (defense) and redshirt sophomore linebacker Nate Nix (special teams). The MVPs were sophomore running back LeSean McCoy (offense), McKillop (defense) and place-kicker Conor Lee (special teams). The Demale Stanley Award for the most inspirational player, as voted on by his teammates, went to Stephens-Howling.

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