Run And Gun

The Cincinnati offense has been remarkable and without question should provide the Pitt defense with its biggest test this season.

The No. 5 Bearcats (11-0), who face No. 14 Pittsburgh (9-2) for the Big East title Saturday at noon at Heinz Field, have not scored less than 24 points in a game, have tallied more than 40 five times and average 39.4 per game.

Pitt's offense shouldn't take a back seat to any, but there's some concern that the Panthers wouldn't be competitive in a shootout with Cincinnati. The Pitt players, however, feel differently.

"I think we've shown that this year, just by the amount of points that we've been putting up on average (compared to) the past,'' Pitt senior tight end Nate Byham said. "(It's) at least double-digits, probably 10 points or so, and I think we have a more big-play offense with the athletes that we have.

"So, scoring points with teams, we don't really have an issue with that. We don't worry about that, because we believe our defense can hold teams. But, if it comes to a shootout, we think we can hang with anybody.''

Pitt has averaged 32.2 points per game this season, twice tallying more than 40 in a game, but the Panthers just don't appear to be as efficient as Cincinnati. Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti addressed that as well.

"When you look at us as an offense, a pro-style offense, we're very balanced in all three phases,'' Cignetti said. "We have the ability to run the football.

"We have the ability to protect the passer inside the pocket and outside the pocket, and we certainly have the ability to throw the football. ... This offense is equipped for every contingency.''

Pitt quarterback Bill Stull, for the most part, was agreeable.

"We'll be ready for a shootout, if that's what it comes to,'' Stull said. "But we want to run the ball and take shots down the field off that. (But) I really don't see that happening the way that our defense has been playing. You always have to be ready for anything, so we're going to do what we need to do.

"The way that we've scored points is having a long drive, a 12-play, eight-minute drive that takes up an entire quarter. And our defense is going to play big, the way that they have all season. So, we have to make sure we make mistake-free, and we'll see what happens after that.''

When the Panthers have been their most successful offensively, freshman running back Dion Lewis is pounding the opposition, Stull is completing high-percentage passes, and Pitt athletes like Dorin Dickerson and Jonathan Baldwin are making plays.

"I think we could have a mismatch with their secondary, but I feel that way about any secondary,'' Byham said. "Bill's been playing great, and we have great receivers, running backs, Dorin and Henry at fullback. And our O-line has been great. So, I really don't see anybody slowing down our passing game.

"We just got slowed down some last week at West Virginia. But we couldn't get the run game started, so that really hurt the pass. They were able to put everybody in the box. This week, we plan on being able to establish both the run and pass, and we're working very hard to get that done against Cincinnati.''

Dickerson is about as tough a matchup as any for a defense, but he had a rough game at WVU and was ineffective. He'll need to turn things around this week.

"We definitely can match them, because we're not going to let them come in here and do what they want to do,'' Dickerson said. "We're going to run our offense and run our defense and play our game.

"We're going to be the better team at the end of the day. That's what we're striving for, and that's what we have to do this week.''

Pitt fifth-year wideout Cedric McGee believed the Panthers know what's in store for them against the Bearcats.

"We've got to put up points on offense,'' McGee said. "There's no doubt about that, and we have to be efficient. We also can't have any mistakes. We can't turn the ball over. That's especially true against these guys, but I think our defense is going to do a great job, too. And that will help us a lot.''

That's what it should take to pass this most-difficult test.

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