Redshirt senior Dan Hutchins leads the nation in punting, and against Notre Dame, he averaged 48 net yards per punt on his three attempts. But after the Pitt offense was stopped at its own 35 on the first possession of the third quarter, the coaching staff decided to give Hutchins the ball on fourth down with the option of either punting or running.
"It's really a kick-or-run option on Hutch's part," Dave Wannstedt said at his weekly press conference. "Half the time that we run that, people don't even know that we're running it. He just goes and kicks the ball and everybody thinks that it was a rolled kick. He has the option to do it anytime."
Against Notre Dame, Hutchins took the run option and tried to gain three yards to convert the fourth down. He was stopped before he reached the line of scrimmage.
"You look at the fake punt, and it was there; we had the look that we wanted and we didn't execute," Wannstedt said. "The guy jumped underneath our lead-blocker and made the play. We had the right look initially; we just didn't execute it."
Sunseri's strong start
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri was effective in the early going against Notre Dame, completing his first eight pass attempts. Wannstedt said there was a reason Sunseri's efficiency was high in the first quarter on Saturday.
"We threw three-step slants, we threw bubble screens, we threw flare screens to the back we ran some boots and waggles; those are high-percentage, confidence, make-the-quarterback-feel-good plays, as compared to dropping back, where he's trying to read the whole field.
"I thought we had a good plan from the standpoint of giving him some high-percentage plays where he could get some confidence and get going."
The next to last drive
Pitt's last - and best - shot at beating Notre Dame came on the Panthers' next-to-last drive of the game, when they took over at their own 10, trailing by six points with three timeouts and 4:45 left in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore running back Dion Lewis got the call on first and second downs and gained a total of five yards in the process. Sunseri's third-down pass was batted incomplete; following a timeout, Wannstedt opted to punt on fourth-and-five.
"If we had fourth-and-two, maybe fourth-and-three, we were going to go for it," Wannstedt said. "Then we came up and threw an incomplete pass and it was fourth-and-five. When we were talking about the (fourth-down) play, we thought we were going to make a few yards; when we didn't, that's when we called a timeout, just to be sure.
"We just talked through it again - the situation and the game - what would give our kids the best chance to win the game? The way we were playing defense at that point, we really felt good about stopping them."
Pitt did stop Notre Dame on the ensuing possession and forced a punt, but the Irish downed the punt at the Pitt 7.
It's natural for fans to second-guess play-calling, particularly in the wake of a loss. But Wannstedt said on Monday that the Pitt coaching staff conducted similar re-evaluations after the loss to Notre Dame.
"We went back and looked at some of the plays that we called in the game and said as coaches, 'Of the things that we're dialing up, are the kids getting enough repetitions in practice?' We should be confident with it, and we're double-checking those things.
"We're going to add things every week from a gameplan standpoint, but you have to make darn sure that you're getting enough reps that guys can play fast. We're not going to shy away from doing things. We just have to do them better."
More playing time for backup CB's?
Reserve cornerbacks Buddy Jackson and K'Waun Williams seem to be making more and more appearances as the games go on this season. Both are fixtures of the coverage and return units as well as the top subs in Pitt's six-defensive back package. And both seem to be making plays when given the opportunity.
Williams got noticed on Saturday when he made an important tackle on Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph and later broke up a pass for Rudolph.
"K'Waun did a heck of a job," Wannstedt said. "He made two big third-down tackles. We'll see where he fits, but we were using him some in the nickel packages and some of the special-teams."
As for Jackson, his recent improvements have been a welcomed change for the coaching staff.
"Buddy did a really good job. He's obviously been in the doghouse here a lot, but I have to give him credit: in the last couple weeks, he's been doing a heck of a job in kick coverage, punt coverage, we have him on kickoff return now. So aside from mixing him in on some of our defensive packages, he has really picked it up from a performance standpoint."
Despite the improved play of Jackson and Williams, Wannstedt said there are no plans in place to get either more playing time with the base defense.
Wipe the slate
This Saturday's game at Syracuse will be Pitt's Big East opener for the 2010 season, representing a point of separation for the Panthers. After beginning the year 2-3 against non-conference opposition, the Pitt players can put the past five games behind them and focus on getting ready for the conference schedule.
Wannstedt said that he doesn't plan to encourage that kind of before-and-after approach, since he wants the team to focus on the issues that have led to the current record.
"I've been in these meetings and I've done it before where you put a drape up over the first half of the season. I've done all that stuff. Where we're at right now and how we're trying to figure out who's doing what and how we're piecing this thing together, we can't forget what cost us from winning the Notre Dame and act like it didn't happen.
"I think the minute that we pretend that something was okay or that it didn't happen, it may show up again."
Quote of the day
"We are making some strides. Not as fast as anybody wants, but we are what we are right now. Let's go out there and find a way to get better and improve over what we did last week." - Dave Wannstedt, 10/11/2010