As W.Va. awaits, Pitt's offense lacks consistency
Pitt leads the Big East Conference despite going nearly a full season without its offense living up to expectations.
The deep passes to Jon Baldwin are missing, and his statistics are way down. All those long runs by Dion Lewis are missing, and his statistics are way down. With a couple of regular season games remaining, Lewis has 1,138 fewer yards rushing than he ended with last season, and Baldwin has nearly 500 fewer yards receiving.
Some coaches would be panicking. Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has the same patience he had when the season began.
With the conference title still unclaimed and rival West Virginia arriving on Friday with a defense that hasn't allowed any opponent to score more than 21 points, this would be a good week for Pittsburgh's offense to begin showing some consistency and big-play capability.
Pitt ranks only 75th nationally in total offense with a 362.1 yards per game average, down from No. 52 last season. West Virginia is 74th offensively, but is No. 4 defensively. Pitt is No. 12 defensively.
''We're still a work in progress, but we have made progress,'' Wannstedt said Monday. ''If we don't turn the ball over, if we protect the football, we have a chance to go out there and be productive on offense. I think we need to let West Virginia know that Jon Baldwin is capable of breaking the game open, as are Mike Shanahan, Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. I think both offenses have enough talent that you just can't let your guard down.''
Pitt (6-4, 5-1 in Big East) can claim the conference title if it beats West Virginia (7-3, 3-2) and Cincinnati (4-6, 2-3) on Dec. 4. The Panthers will claim at least a share of the title if they win Friday, but won't get the accompanying BCS bid unless they also win at Cincinnati or Connecticut (6-4, 3-2) loses to Cincinnati on Friday or at South Florida on Dec. 4.
The Panthers might be more confident of finding a seam or two in West Virginia's unconventional 3-3-5 defense if Baldwin was getting open downfield like he did last season, when he averaged 19.5 yards per catch. This season, he has a 16.1 average. Or if Lewis was running like he did when he gained at least 110 yards in each of Pitt's last eight games a year ago.
Lewis has been held to two 100-yard games this season, including a season-high 130 against Rutgers on Oct. 23. He had 106 yards and a game-deciding 22-yard touchdown run Saturday as Pitt edged South Florida 17-10.
Lewis isn't Pitt's leading rusher, as Ray Graham has gained 804 yards. Most games, Wannstedt sorts out which back is running better and stays with him.
''We played Dion Lewis a lot more last week,'' Wannstedt said. ''We felt that Dion Lewis had a little hotter hand and was seeing things quicker, so we went with him more.''
While quarterback Tino Sunseri's statistics are up since early in the season, he's still not as consistent as Bill Stull was in 2009. Pitt's offensive line also hasn't played up to the level of last season's line, which was much more experienced.
''Consistency wise, it's a challenge every week,'' Wannstedt said. ''The thing that can sometimes make an offense look not as effective is it could be that just one guy is off. All it takes is pressure from one lineman who misses his block or doesn't read it right. Everybody else is perfect, the route is perfect, the quarterback knows where to throw the ball and you throw it away.''