The Baldwin Factor

Pitt football fans aren't the only ones who believed that Jonathan Baldwin would be a game-breaker this season, and as the Panthers neared the midpoint the 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore wideout was a focus for every opposing defense.

Still, Jonathan Baldwin excelled. But with three games remaining for No. 8 Pittsburgh (8-1), including a game against Notre Dame (6-3) Saturday at 8 p.m. at Heinz Field, have more offensive options.

So, when a team like Syracuse takes away Baldwin, someone else on Pitt has a chance to shine. When the Orange held Baldwin to just one catch for five measly yards, senior tight end Dorin Dickerson hauled in seven Bill Stull passes for 118 yards and one touchdown.

"I think opposing defenses certainly are aware of where Jon is, but we're doing a very good job of lining him up in all the different spots so they just can't lock into one spot on the field,'' Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti said. "But, certainly, you can see that teams are aware of where he lines up.

"(But) we run a progression-read system here, so sometime it doesn't work out for our first progression. Then, we move down the progressions to other guys, and Billy's been able to have the time to reach a lot of them. (And) depending who the defense takes away, we'll move on to another receiver.''

Just two weeks earlier, when Pitt faced South Florida at home, Baldwin tallied six catches for 144 yards and one 40-yard touchdown. So, he knows that the ball will go his way as much as possible, if things are going by design, but that really doesn't matter much to Baldwin.

"The defenses are doing a lot of different things, but we have a lot of different receivers who can make plays,'' Baldwin said. "So, if I only have one catch and we still win the game, that's all that matters to me.''

Just because he had one catch against Syracuse, that doesn't mean Baldwin didn't have an impact. He ran his first wide receiver reverse this season and took it 61 yards, but didn't score.

"Whatever the coaches call, I'll be ready for anything,'' Baldwin added. "We had been working on it all week, and it was successful against our defense. So, I was pretty aware of it being called, and I was ready for it. I'm just glad it worked.''

Stull said that he and his teammates joked with Baldwin that he looked a lot faster than usual on that reverse, and the fifth-year senior quarterback wondered why his top wideout didn't turn it on like that during every pattern.

"Truthfully, I just wanted to see him tuck the ball,'' Stull said. "From a coaching standpoint, and I want to be a coach someday, he made a great move and a great run. But, please, just tuck the ball. I guess I can't talk, though, because I've had a couple fumbles myself.''

Stull actually believed that it wasn't anything that Syracuse did to shut down Baldwin. He noted that there were several near misses in the passing game with Baldwin as a key player a couple times as well. And it's not like Baldwin hasn't made some plays. He has 35 catches for 698 yards (19.9-yard average) and four touchdowns this season.

"I've always said that if teams are going to focus on one guy, then someone else will be open,'' Stull said. "Hence, you have No. 2 (Dorin Dickerson), who had 7-8 catches for 120-some yards and a touchdown or something like that.

"So, that day was Dorin's day, but against South Florida it was J.B. I wouldn't say that Dorin had that day off, but the progressions didn't get to the second level. We were hitting our first progression reads. (And) we'll see what happens this week against Notre Dame.''

The Fighting Irish have an excellent offense with a particular concentration on the passing game, but that doesn't matter to Baldwin.

"I know they have a lot of good players on offense, but we're really not worried about them over there,'' Baldwin said. "We got our own stuff going on with our side of the ball, so we just have to execute our plays. Our defense will take care of what they're doing on offense, and we have to take care of what we do.

"(And) we have a great offense with a great quarterback in Bill Stull and a great offensive coordinator in Frank Cignetti, so we believe we can match up with anybody. And I guess in that regard, this is going to be a good matchup. They have a good offense, but we have a real good offense, too.''

But with an impact player like Baldwin, one can be certain that Notre Dame will be more concerned about him.

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