2009 Pittsburgh Panthers Football Preview
2008 Record: (9-4, 5-2)
2008 Bowl: Sun Bowl vs. Oregon State (L 0-3)
Coach: Dave Wannstedt (25-23 at Pittsburgh, 25-23 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Frank Cignetti
Defensive Coordinator: Phil Bennett
Other Key Returnees: CB Aaron Berry, CB Jovani Chappel, C Robb Houser, G John Malecki, OT Jason Pinkston, WR T.J. Porter, DE Jabaal Sheard, OT Joe Thomas, WR Oderick Turner, LB Greg Williams, DT Mick Williams
Key Losses: FB Conrdge Collins, G C.J. Davis, DT Rashaad Duncan, WR Derek Kinder, K Conor Lee, RB LeSean McCoy, LB Scott McKillop, LB Austin Ransom, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, S Eric Thatcher
Year three of the Coach Dave Wannstedt era went quite well and ended up with a trip to the Sun Bowl. Pittsburgh hung around the race for a Big East title and that will be the goal again this season. There are some huge losses on both sides of the ball, but the Panthers are building up their talent base and the holes should be getting slightly easier to fill now that Coach Wannstedt has had some time to recruit.
The offense completely relied upon LeSean McCoy in 2008 and now he is gone. By default, this team’s strength lies on the other side of the ball. The front four is extremely talented, led by ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard. Those two were consistently getting into the opponents backfield and that should not change this year. With tackles Mick Williams, Gus Mustakas and Tommie Duhart returning, the absence of Rashaad Duncan should not be much of an issue. If the front four continues to put pressure on the opposition, the secondary will once again be among the best in the conference. Strong safety Dom DeCicco deserves much more credit than he gets and both corners, Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappell, will return to their starting roles. The biggest concern is at linebacker where the Panthers have to replace tackling machine Scott McKillop. Greg Williams will have to fill the leadership role and the defense will need to find a couple capable players to fill in around him.
Without McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling, Pitt suddenly has to rely on their passing game more than they would like to. Quartberack Bill Stull threw more interceptions than touchdowns and only completed 57 percent of his pass attempts. He has some quality receivers to work with, most notably Jonathan Baldwin, T.J. Porter and Oderick Turner, but Derek Kinder was his favorite target and he is now gone. The other receivers have to be more consistent and Stull has to make smarter decisions or the offense will be moving very slowly. On the ground Kevin Collier and Shariff Harris will be asked to make an immediate impact. Those two have virtually no game experience, but Pitt simply does not have many other options.
The Bottom Line for the Panthers:
What the offense does have is an experienced offensive line. Four starters return and three of them are seniors. Tackles Joe Thomas and Jason Pinkston and center Robb Houser should be able to pave the way for the running game to at least be decent even without the two superstar running backs. However, this is the same group that gave up nearly two and a half sacks per game last year. Some of that blame falls on Stull, but the line will need to show that they can do more work this year and not just let McCoy do his thing.
By Joel Welser
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