November 6, 2007

Panthers need help in passing game

On paper, Pitt (4-5, 2-2) should have had little trouble dispatching with Syracuse (2-7, 1-3) last Saturday at Heinz Field. The Orange entered the game as one of the worst teams in the country, with just two wins and ineffective units on both sides of the ball. But instead of rolling over the Orange, the Panthers needed a last-minute defensive stand to keep Syracuse out of field goal range and protect a slim three-point margin, securing the 20-17 win in the process.

There are a number of reasons for Pitt's close call on Saturday, but here is the most likely culprit:

Against the nation's 108th-ranked defense, the Panthers converted just 4 of 16 third down attempts.

Similarly, there are a number of reasons for that poor conversion rate, but the biggest cause is a problem that has haunted Dave Wannstedt's team since junior Bill Stull was lost for the season with a thumb injury. That is to say, whether it's setting up third downs or converting them, the Panthers struggle when throwing the ball.

Since Stull's injury, the quarterbacking responsibilities have fallen to freshman Pat Bostick (after a short stint by redshirt freshman Kevan Smith), and in five games as Pitt's starter, plus the second half of the Connecticut game, Bostick has completed 64% of his passes for 1,058 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions (Bostick also had an interception in one pass attempt against Grambling).

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