No Bye-Week Blues For Pitt

After ending three straight practice days Thursday afternoon, the Pitt football team is set to take a much needed two-day break during its bye week before getting into its regular game-week preparation.

Pittsburgh (7-1, 4-0) faces Syracuse (3-4, 0-2) in a Big East Conference matchup Nov. 7 at noon at Heinz Field.

"It's been a good week for us, because we've had an opportunity to expose the kids (to a lot),'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Before they leave for a two-day break, Friday and Saturday, they have been exposed to Syracuse and should have a feel for their basic offense and defense. And I would think, I know from a coaching standpoint, that their attitude has been excellent.

"(And) we've gotten a lot of work done with Pitt versus Pitt. We had two-minute (drills), some red-zone work, an inside run (and) a play-pass period. So, we tried to take every situation that we could be in during a game and have worked (first-team offense) against (first-team defense). So, we've gone full speed, (and) it's been productive. Full-contact, but not tackling to the ground.''

The Panthers have not slighted the freshmen this week, either, as the first-year players and other scout-team performers got a chance to scrimmage Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

"We're trying to get better with our older guys and get some Syracuse work in there, as well as getting (freshmen) Jason Douglas, Juantez Hollins and Brock DeCicco, guys like that, some coaching, too. (And) they all did a good job, but nobody really stood out to talk about them (specifically).''

While Pitt has been working hard during its bye week, the NFL's Steelers have taken it easy next door. Third-year coach Mike Tomlin has backed off this week and given the players every day off. They return to work Monday.

That scenario wouldn't work for the Panthers, Wannstedt noted.

"We only get four hours a day, and we need (to put in) the time,'' Wannstedt said. "And we've done this before here, (but) the only think I haven't done before that I've done this week is that I'm giving the guys two days off. We generally have them come in on Friday mornings (to go) through some conditioning before letting them go for a while.

"And then we'd give them Saturday off. But our previous bye weeks usually were in Week 3, 4 or 5 and never Week 8. And our guys need a little bit of rest, (so) I'm encouraging them to go home and get away from it for two days. Then, they can come back Sunday and be refreshed and ready to go.''

Like any coach, especially one in the running for a conference championship, Wannstedt believes there's never enough time to practice. And with Syracuse being an all-important Big East game, this isn't the time to let up.

"Pitt had a long streak where they didn't beat Syracuse,'' Wannstedt said. "I don't know all the stats, but Syracuse has a great tradition, great academics, and they can go around the country and recruit.

"Last year, we were down by 11 points in the fourth quarter, and the year before that it was 10-10 halfway through the fourth quarter. So, it's a Conference game, Pitt-Syracuse, and we've got to be ready.

"We've got to play better than we have,'' Wannstedt added, "(and) they're definitely playing at a higher level than they did last year. Doug has done that by bringing back the Syracuse tradition.''

Pitt has won four straight against the Orange and six of the past seven, but the scores have been close for the most part. The Panthers' only loss in that stretch was a 38-31 double-overtime decision in 2004. Pitt also lost 24-17 in double-overtime in 2000 and dropped 11 straight to Syracuse until a 48-24 win in 2002 began the current 6-1 stretch.

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