Stull, Pitt Seniors Keep Team On Track

For those concerned that the Pitt football team might overlook its next opponent, Syracuse, Saturday at noon at Heinz Field, don't worry about it.

If quarterback Bill Stull and his fellow Pittsburgh seniors have any say, and they most assuredly will, the Panthers (7-1, 4-0) will remain focused even though Syracuse is 3-5 overall and 0-3 in the Big East Conference.

"We're definitely aware of what's at stake, and Coach Wannstedt definitely makes us aware of what can happen if we don't bring our 'A' game,'' Stull said. "And our seniors, the leaders on the team, we're definitely making sure that all the guys are aware of that. We know what it's all about.

"And we know that if we lose this game, all our dreams are gone. All the things we've talked about from the beginning, it would be like it all was worth nothing if we lose this week. So, we know what needs to be done.''

Since Syracuse likes to stack the box to stop opposing running games, especially one like Pitt's that is led by freshman sensation Dion Lewis, who has 1,029 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. The Panthers average nearly 180 rushing yards per game and five yards per carry.

Pitt's passing game has been clicking as well, as Stull has completed better than 67 percent of his passes for 1,654 yards (206.8 per game) and 16 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

"Slowly, but surely, our passing game has improved every week,'' Stull said. "The way that we run the ball, you kind of have to do something to adjust to that. But I also think that some teams have tried to predict us on certain plays or with certain tendencies, but I don't really think that you can predict us.

"And that's with any personnel group. We can run any play out of any personnel group with the players that we have. So, it's tough (for opposing teams), but I really think that they're going to have to try to stop one aspect of our offense. And that's going to leave open the other part of our offense.''

Lewis believed that even though Syracuse allows just 88.9 rushing yards per game, he'll still be able to run the ball on the Orange. And the Panthers will be able to move the sticks, whether that's in the air or on the ground. Syracuse allows 274.2 passing yards per game.

"We just have to play smart and not try to force anything,'' Lewis said. "They bring their safeties up, but we have ways to block them out. We just have to stick with what our coaches have taught us, and things will work out.

"We just have to stay patient with it, not try to get a big play on every run. So, we need to stick with all our blocking schemes, and something will break loose. We have some good running backs, and we all help each other.

"We do have a good chemistry, and we work well together with me, Ray and Henry,'' Lewis added. "Ray and I are friends on and off the field, hanging out together, cracking jokes and working together on the field. We talk about our play and help each other. So, that's probably why we work so well together.''

If Lewis, fellow freshman Ray Graham and redshirt sophomore fullback Henry Hynoski aren't successful pounding the ball for Pitt, Stull and Co. will have to go to the air. But that shouldn't be a problem for the Panthers.

"We've got Dion Lewis in the backfield, so our passing game has to open things up for him,'' fifth-year senior wideout Cedric McGee said. "(And) we know they're going to try to stop Dion, but we've got all the faith in the world in Bill. And the O-line has done a great job in protection.

"Play-action has been big for us, so against Syracuse they'll probably try to stack the box. They're physical, too, so we have to step it up in the passing game. We've had tough games with Syracuse every year since I've been here, so I know that you can't sleep on anybody in any game.''

That's why Pitt's senior class will make sure that the Panthers stay on course.

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