Still, there are times when Jonathan Baldwin appears to be running patterns by himself, like the coverage forgot about him. And even if an opposing secondary has targeted Baldwin, like Rutgers two weeks ago, he still can make big plays.
Baldwin torched South Florida for 144 yards on six catches with one scintillating 40-yard touchdown reception in a 41-14 Pittsburgh win Saturday, and he has 34 catches for 693 yards overall with four scores and a 20.38-yard average.
"Last year, I was young, and I really didn't know too much,'' Baldwin said. "And I kind of knew what would happen if I beat them off the line. I came off the line, and there it was. The pass was right there. I'm also running a lot better routes than I did last year. So, that really helps.
"And Coach Cignetti really switches it up do that they don't know what routes I'm running. Watching film, I'm tall, and when I'm running it doesn't look like I'm running that fast. Then, in the game, when they're matched up with me I get up on them so fast that they're not ready for it.''
What many opposing defensive backs don't realize is that not only is Baldwin tall and strong, but he has sprinter's speed to go with a 42-inch vertical jump. All these attributes were in effect during Baldwin's spectacular 40-yard touchdown grab.
"I saw the ball thrown and just tried to adjust my body to make the catch,'' Baldwin said. "I thought we executed well as an offense today and I just tried to do my part to help us win.''
Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt had his own thoughts about that acrobatic catch which he caught on the South Florida 26-yard line and led to Pitt's third touchdown which put the game out of reach early.
"That catch was sick,'' Wannstedt said. "It was just a phenomenal catch.''
Some have compared Baldwin to former Pitt wideout Larry Fitzgerald, among the NFL's best receivers right now, but the young player preferred to stay humble and give the Panthers credit for his success.
"I think we execute well as an offense and our quarterback and offensive line are playing great, which helps us play well overall,'' Baldwin said. "We're able to do a lot on offense and I'm just a small part of our overall plan.''
Other differences for Pitt and Baldwin is that fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull has been able to get him the ball more often, and the play-calling is more innovative so that he's able to get open for those throws downfield.
Stull talked about the big play to Baldwin.
"He's just a phenomenal athlete and also a great teammate,'' Stull said. "It's that simple. When I put that ball up, I thought he could jump up and make the catch. So, it didn't surprise me when he came down with the ball, because he's made big catches all year.''
It was just a matter of time for Baldwin to get rolling this season, and new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti has a number of plays to get him the ball. He wasn't able to shake loose from the double- and triple-coverage by Rutgers defenders, but his one catch for 17 yards was crucial.
And just his presence helps open things up for other Panthers like senior tight end Dorin Dickerson and the Pitt running game. Dickerson now has 32 catches for 332 yards and an NCAA-best nine touchdown receptions.
"We have a lot of guys who can make plays, including Jonathan Baldwin,'' Dickerson said. "That's a big difference this year. It's that we have a lot more play-makers, and if one of us is covered the other guys can get open.'
Baldwin agreed with that assessment.
"I know if teams are guarding me, we have other players who can also make plays,'' Baldwin said. "If I'm not open, guys like Mike Shanahan, Dorin and other players are able to come up big for us.''
Baldwin now has four 100-yard receiving games this season.
Baldwin Makes It Look Easy
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