Tougher Competition This Week

While it might not always be the case, it appears that Pitt's football schedule will get progressively more difficult with each passing week this season.

Pittsburgh (2-0) opened against Youngstown State, formerly a Division I-AA program -- albeit among the best in the nation with four national titles in the 1990s -- and then traveled to defending Mid-American Conference champion Buffalo Saturday. Both ended in decisive Panthers' victories.

But this week should be a little tougher for Pitt, which faces the Naval Academy (1-1) Saturday at 6 p.m. at Heinz Field. The Midshipmen run the triple-option offense nearly to perfection, and they ran all over the Panthers in 2007 during a 48-45 double-overtime victory. Last fall, Pitt shut down host Navy in the second half and won 42-21.

"We'll see how we respond this week, but the way it's played out, if you look at the history of the teams, it's kind of been a step each week,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Navy, obviously, is a better football team than Buffalo was. And Buffalo was better than Youngstown State.

"So, our players understand that, and we need to take our game up a notch -- not just emotionally, because I thought we were emotional in all the games -- but our execution, eliminating the bad things and (eliminating) the penalties.

"All of a sudden,'' Wannstedt added, "those things (occurring) against Navy could be the difference between winning and losing. So, the importance of playing clean games (no penalties or miscues) as the competition gets better becomes even more important.''

Fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull preferred not to go by that standard, basically that the schedule becomes more difficult for Pitt with every passing week, but he also was confident that the Panthers have the talent to win every game if they play up to their ability.

"I wouldn't say that every team on our schedule is going to be better than the (previous) team,'' Stull said. "It's college football, and you never know who's going to win or play better on that day. But we understand that if we go out and play our game and eliminate turnovers, we have a chance to win.

"And if our offense continues to execute the way we know how and play well and play the way that we've practiced since the spring when Coach Cignetti came in, we can be successful. If all facets of our game -- offense, defense and special teams -- continue to play well, then we'll have a chance to win.''

Sixth-year senior middle linebacker Adam Gunn believed it was just a good idea for the Panthers to step up their game every week anyway. And certainly another level was needed to be successful against Navy.

"Coach showed us a couple clips to show us what type of defense we are,'' Gunn said. "He showed us the bad plays, and he showed us the good plays. And we all just came together and said that we're not the defensive team that gave up over 300 yards and 20 points on just eight plays (against Buffalo).

"We're the defense that held them to zero points in the third quarter. So, it's something that we really need to focus on to be that third-quarter team and not the defense that gave up so much on those eight plays.''

And Gunn quickly added that the Panthers already have begun correcting the mistakes they made against Buffalo.

"We started early Sunday to correct the missed tackles and missed alignments and wrong angles that we took,'' Gunn said. "So, those were easily fixable, but this week it's definitely important going against a run-oriented offense. They're going to run 75-80 percent of the time, so (sure) tackling is very important.

"It's always important, but it's even more critical for this game. We need to be more efficient in that area to be successful against Navy. ... We need to be sound, very efficient on defense all the way through from our defensive line to the linebackers and all the way back to our secondary.''

And if Pitt continues to improve every week, it should be ready for the steady progression of opponents on its schedule as well.

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