Half-Empty, Half-Full

This Pitt football season can be best described as a tale of two halves.

Either Pittsburgh has played well in the first half and let the opposition back into the game in the second -- bottoming out completely at North Carolina State to lose -- and then coming back strong to win at Louisville and last week against Connecticut.

The Panthers (5-1, 2-0) would prefer kicking to the finish for wins, over the opposite, but an alternative would be a complete game against Rutgers (4-1, 0-1) in a Big East game Friday night at 8 at RU Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. and televised nationally by ESPN.

"Hopefully, you take the positives away from each game,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "The lesson after every game is different. I think the first game, Louisville, was one that we turned it over once. We gave up a trick play. We did a couple things that the players know that you can't do and win.

"I think last week, where we had to come from behind late, it really put a lot of pressure on our football team to respond in a pressure situation. And they came through that. I think even though we came from behind in both, being down three at the half is not uncommon. I think you're going to be in these conference games and you're going to be up, you're going to be down.''

Even though most Big East games are likely to be close, with the competition level being similar from the top to mid-level teams in the Conference, the Panthers are to be commended for strong second-half surges.

"I think it's been a mental thing for us,'' Gunn said. "We go in at halftime and know that we have two more quarters to get the job done, and the past two weeks we were able to do that. That's why we don't get down at halftime if we're losing. But it would be better to play a complete game.''

Senior tight end Nate Byham believed it was all about conditioning for the Panthers, and he gave a tip of his cap to Buddy Morris and staff for that.

"It's just a matter of better execution for us,'' Byham said. "It's more mental than it is physical. Also, we're wearing the other team down. They get tired, but we aren't tired. So, that's a big difference, and then we're executing better. So, our conditioning is amazing, and we don't fade away at the end.

"The past couple games, we could have gone into halftime with a couple more touchdowns, but we didn't make the plays. We know that we can't afford to do that every week, but when urgency occurs in the second half we really step up. We always have confidence in our teammates and our coaches.

"We're not cocky, but we're very confident in our abilities,'' Byham added. "And we don't think anybody can stop us when we're playing well. We stopped ourselves with those poor first halves the past two weeks, so we need to stop holding ourselves back and make the plays that are there for us.''

Wannstedt noted that the Panthers have discussed at length their propensity to misfire in the first half, but he believed lessons were learned and there won't be a repeat performance anytime soon.

"You have to be able to deal with that, regroup,'' Wannstedt said. "You've got a lot of time left. What we went through Saturday is unusual. You put yourself in that situation, the odds are against you. So that's the lesson that we've learned. I talked to our team about that.

"(And) I wanted to make sure that they didn't take it for granted, or think that this is how it happens. It doesn't happen that way. We spent some time yesterday trying to really point out the reasons, (and) I think that we'll take the positives from it and hopefully use that as a building block.''

A key to Pitt's second-half success last week was the performance by quarterback Bill Stull, who was nearly perfect after struggling in the first half.

"Billy's done a great job this season,'' senior tight end Dorin Dickerson said. "He's gone through his progressions and made nearly all the right throws. And when he made some mistakes last week, he bounced back.

"He was able to have a great second half. A lot of different guys deserve credit for our success this year, but Bill should be right up there at the top.''

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