Winless Pitt not looking past YSU
The Panthers need a win badly at Heinz Field on Saturday.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Dave Wannstedt never envisioned a start like this when he took over the head coaching duties at the University of Pittsburgh last year.
Wannstedt, who spent most of his coaching career in the National Football League, took over a team that was 8-3 a year ago, competing in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl as a BCS qualifier.
But Wannstedt made some changes, switching from the pass-heavy offense of former coach Walt Harris in favor of a more aggressive running attack.
The Panthers began the year ranked 25th in the country in the preseason poll, but promptly dropped their season opener at home to Notre Dame 42-21.
That was bad, but what happened next was even worse as Pitt was upended by Ohio University 16-10 in overtime.
The Panthers should have beaten Nebraska last week but had two field goal attempts blotched in the final seven seconds of a 7-6 loss.
"It's been disappointing, but last week's performance was encouraging to say the least," Wannstedt said.
"Defensively, we built off what happened in the second week," he said. "That's continued against better people, so I was encouraged about that, but the biggest area that needs addressed, and it's pretty obvious, is coming up with enough big plays in our passing game to give us an opportunity to score enough points to win."
This week the Panthers will entertain Youngstown State, a Division I-AA team that has won three straight games and put a lot of points on the board in doing so.
"We know their record and they're scoring a lot of points," he said. "They rotate two quarterbacks and they force you to defend the option. They've got an all-conference running back and an outstanding punter. They are 3-0 for a reason; they've played good football and they haven't beaten themselves."
Even though the Penguins are a I-AA team, Wannstedt knows the Panthers can't look past them.
Can't look past YSU
"We can't look past anybody," he said. "I mean obviously we'd be fools to even think of it. I think we got the team's attention about playing better and winning the game, so I don't see looking ahead will be an issue at all."
"We need to find a way to win a game, whether it's against a I-AA team or not," he said. "We're focusing, which we need to, on ourselves. We've got to go out and play good and play smart football and not turn it over."
One reason the Panthers are 0-3 is that junior quarterback Tyler Palko (6-2, 220) is nowhere near the player he was a year ago.
Palko has completed just 44 of 86 passes for 530 yards and a touchdown, while throwing four interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns in the loss to Ohio U.
The running game hasn't been all that much better, accounting for just 365 yards in three games.
Senior tailback Raymond Kirkley (5-10, 225) leads the rushers with 179 yards on 29 carries. The Panthers have just one rushing touchdown in three games and that was scored by Palko.
The Panthers' offensive line is huge, averaging well over 300 pounds per man.
Middle linebacker H.B. Blades (6-0, 240, Jr.) is the team's defensive leader with 36 tackles, two of them for losses and one sack.
But the Panthers have had only one turnover in three games, an interception by cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Pitt does have a great punter in junior Adam Graessle (6-4, 225), who is averaging 46.7 yards per punt, with a long of 67 yards and three inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
Field goal kicker Josh Cummings (5-10, 205, Sr.) is just 5-of-8 and has had two blocked this year, both against Nebraska.
Pitt does have some Youngstown-area connections as sophomore starting offensive tackle Mike McGlynn is from Austintown Fitch and sophomore strong safety Mike Phillips is a Warren Harding graduate.
Pitt's offensive coordinator, Matt Cavanaugh, is also a Youngstown native, having played his high school football at Chaney High. Cavanaugh was also an All-America quarterback at Pitt.