Stull Silences His Critics

Just how excited was Pitt quarterback Bill Stull after passing performance in the Panthers' win against Navy Saturday night?

Stull was still pumped nearly two hours after the game. So, the fifth-year senior decided to send a text message to Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti to talk a little more about the game.

"He asked me how I was feeling,'' Bill Stull said. "And I just told him that I had a lot of fun and I saw everything, pretty much, very clearly throughout the game. It's some good stuff when you can translate practice-field stuff on game day. It makes game day a lot easier.''

Stull should have been ecstatic after his performance against the Midshipmen. All his passes were nearly perfectly thrown, and if there weren't a few drops he likely would have surpassed 300 yards. As it was, Stull connected on 17 of 24 passes for 245 yards and a six-yard scoring toss to wideout Oderick Turner.

For the season, Stull has completed a whopping 70 percent of his passes (49-for-70) for 540 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception. That's quite an improvement for a guy who could barely complete a pass let alone move the sticks by the end of last season.

"I think Bill wanted to prove to everybody that he could play Division-I football, and he's doing a great job out there,'' fullback Henry Hynoski said. "He used all the talk as motivation, and our offense can feed off the way he's playing.

"He's putting the ball right on the money and making good decisions, moving around in the pocket and getting rid of the ball. So, that really makes us a better offense when Bill's going well, and he's going real well right now.''

Some would say that improvement in Pitt's offensive line play was the main reason Stull has been so successful, but senior left guard Joe Thomas believed that there is no major difference in Stull from last season to this one.

"Coach Cignetti has come in here and done a great job,'' Thomas said. "They protect the ball a lot better, and they step up in the pocket a lot more. And they feel more comfortable in the pocket (this year).

"That's really the biggest difference, I think, that Coach Cignetti has come in here and done a great job with those guys. There's a lot of little things that he's worked on with them that has made a big difference with their performance.''

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt believed that Stull is making quicker decisions and not really holding on to the ball as long as he did last season, which caused more than a few sacks.

"Billy (understands) that we can't stand back there and hold the ball forever,'' Wannstedt said. "We can't force throws in there. We've got to make good, quick decisions. We've got enough playmakers. I think he understands that, too.

"That you don't always have to get the ball to just Dorin Dickerson or Jonathan Baldwin. Nate Byham will make plays. Oderick Turner will make plays. I think that once he really started getting comfortable with that that helped him also.''

Stull also has given credit to Cignetti for his turnaround.

"I pretty much was on the same page with what Coach (offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti) was calling, and things went pretty much the same way that it played out for us during the week,'' Stull said.

"As we went over the game plan, I ran through the plays in my mind. So, that worked out. (And) it's pretty cool when things go in the game just the same way that they go when we work on them in practice.

"(And) if my first read isn't there,'' Stull added, "then it's my job to go through the progressions to find somebody open. If that's (Baldwin) on a go route or (Dion Lewis) or (Ray Graham) on a check down. So, I just have to find them.''

Another factor in Pitt's offensive success, whether it's Stull's passing or Lewis and the ground game, is the play by the Panthers' offensive line. Pitt had more than 60 passing attempts before Stull finally was dropped behind the line.

"Our O-line is playing awesome right now, and I'm very excited for those guys,'' Stull said. "You can feel it in practice, and especially in the game, where they're just playing together as one unit. And that's awesome to see. They love run-blocking, but they're protecting me and doing everything else well, too.''

That has allowed Stull to spread the ball around to 10 different receivers. Sure, sophomore Jonathan Baldwin is a big-play thread with 13 catches for 225 yards (17.3 per reception), but he has no touchdowns. Senior tight end Dorin Dickerson also has 13 receptions for 103 yards (7.9) and four scores. Turner and freshman tailback Dion Lewis have nine catches and one touchdown each.

But if those guys and every other offensive player is covered, Stull can just throw it to himself. He had a pass batted back to him, and he ran 23 yards to the goal line before getting the ball knocked loose. It's the first time that has happened during his time at Pitt.

"I think I might have had one in high school,'' Stull said. "But it was just one of those freak things where I was trying to knock it down so nobody else could catch it. But it fell right into my hands. It definitely was wild. ... We want to win football games, no matter what we have to do to accomplish it.''

And with the way Stull's playing, achieving that goal should be much easier.

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