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Saturday, October 10, 2009
Enigmatic Pitt shows good and bad sides in UConn win



Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh quarterback Bill Stull could only chuckle when asked why his team goes through such wild momentum swings.

"That's just the way we work," Stull said. "It's never going to be easy or exactly the way we want it. We like to make it hard on ourselves."
Charles LeClaire/Getty Images
Pittsburgh fans don't know what they're going to get out of quarterback Bill Stull and the rest of the Panthers week to week.

The Panthers make things hard on a lot of people, including fans and those trying to figure out who exactly they are.

They're good enough to lead NC State 31-19 on the road in the second half yet bad enough to then lose 38-31. They're bad enough to trail Louisville at halftime last week yet good enough to outscore them 28-0 after intermission. And on Saturday, they were bad enough to trail Connecticut 21-6 late in the third quarter at home, but good enough to come back and win 24-21 on a last-second field goal.

Pitt is technically leading the Big East race right now as the only team at 2-0. It's also the league's biggest enigma.

"The discouraging or disappointing thing is we have not played as good as we can play the whole game yet," head coach Dave Wannstedt said.

Saturday's game had all the elements that can both lure you in and repel you away from the Big East preseason favorites, as the Panthers kept hitting the brakes every time they seemed to reach high gear.

Dion Lewis dropped a sure touchdown pass on the first drive. Stull threw an interception in the end zone and later tossed a pick-six from near his own goal line. Pitt should have been ahead 21-0 but got only three points out of its promising first-half drives. To make matters worse, the defense let UConn's weak passing offense burn it for a 79-yard strike from Cody Endres to Marcus Easley late in the second quarter.

By the time Andre Dixon rumbled into the end zone for a 21-6 lead with 3:56 left in the third quarter, the Heinz Field crowd was grumbling about another lost season. Then all of a sudden, Pitt showed how good it could be.

A ground game that had stalled in the first half spit out 166 yards in the second half behind Lewis and Ray Graham. The defense held UConn to six total yards in the entire fourth quarter. And Stull led three straight drives of at least 64 yards to complete the largest comeback in the Wannstedt era.

Pitt finished with 489 total yards and probably should have scored at least 35 points.

"We're just this close from putting a great game together," tight end Nate Byham said, separating his thumb and forefinger ever so slightly. "We're driving up and down the field, but we're just not putting up the points. Once we put all that together, we're going to be great."

A more objective observer might conclude that the Panthers have many terrific players, including Lewis, Byham, receiver Jonathan Baldwin and their defensive line. But they also have major flaws in the secondary, at linebacker and in playcalling, especially near the goal line. Baldwin, a 6-foot-5 athletic freak, never got a look on Pitt's first trip deep into the red zone and Lewis -- who finished with 158 yards -- didn't get a carry from first and goal at the 4 at the end of the game.

Stull might be this team's identity incarnate. He can throw two terrible picks and get booed by his own crowd. Then he can come back and lead those last three drives.

"I think all of our coaches are on the verge of having a heart attack," Stull said. "But it's encouraging when you see that we didn't play exactly how we wanted but we still won. It's going to be a little exciting and a little scary when we do put everything together."

A little exciting and a little scary. That's a pretty good way to describe life as a Pittsburgh Panthers fan right now.