- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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See ya, high octane.
Welcome back, grind-it-out football.
If the Panthers' 21-14 win against Louisville this past weekend had a familiar look to it, that was not an accident. Coach Todd Graham has decided to slow down the offensive pace. No more rushing to snap the ball. No more rushing to get set. No more rushing players onto the field.
Pitt was effective at going at a slower tempo against the Cardinals, racking up 200 yards on the ground. They had no penalties, and Tino Sunseri looked more comfortable. Plenty of misdirection plays worked, and the offensive line had perhaps its best performance in a long time. They are going to have to repeat that performance in their final two games against West Virginia and Syracuse to not only get back to a bowl game, but keep their Big East hopes alive.
Graham singled out his line in particular for its play against the Cardinals. The Panthers used their seventh different starting lineup, as guard Lucas Nix was still unavailable. Pitt went with the combination of Greg Gaskins at left tackle, Ryan Schlieper at left guard; Ryan Turnley at center; Cory King at right guard and Jordan Gibbs at right tackle. Turnley is the only player who has started all 10 games at the same position.
"I'm just really proud of them," Graham said. "Greg Gaskins just sticks out to me up front, him and Turnley. We've now had a few weeks with just the same group of guys and they really responded. I thought we run-blocked really well, came off the football. We were able to be balanced in what we were doing. It's just repetition and having the same guys in the lineup helped. It's just reps and those guys being disciplined."
Pitt lost its two best players on the offensive line in Nix (hurt against USF) and Chris Jacobson (out for the season). Guys like Gaskins, King and Schlieper only have a handful of starts and were thrown into the mix to plug holes. As a result of that and an inability to pick up the hurry-up, Pitt has given up 42 sacks this season.
The injuries on offense and all the young players have played a big role in why Graham is scaling back the attack.
But if he gets another performance like the one against Louisville, it will hardly matter.
"The nature of football -- you're going to have injuries," he said. "We're not going to make excuses and whine about that stuff. But what you have to have is guys that have been in backup roles or some of our guys who've been third team. They can't play as replacements. They have to go out there like they're 9 feet tall and compete like they're the best offensive linemen in the country. To get that confidence takes repetition. Having a knowledge of what you're doing allows you to play fast and aggressive. It's been a process, obviously been a challenge with the injuries, but [I'm] really proud of how they responded. It's not how you start, but how you finish."