For the better part of the first six games of the 2010 season, the Pitt football operated with two of its biggest stars performing well below their expected level of play.
Sophomore running back Dion Lewis and junior receiver Jonathan Baldwin had been good but not great for the Panthers, but things changed on Saturday as both Lewis and Baldwin blew up to lead Pitt to a 41-21 blowout of Rutgers at Heinz Field.
"It was great to see Baldwin get back involved, and it was great to see Dion have a big day," head coach Dave Wannstedt said after the game.
Lewis rushed 17 times for 130 yards and one touchdown on Saturday, recording his first 100-yard game of the season after topping the century mark 10 times in 2009.
Baldwin caught five passes for 139 yards and one touchdown. He had two 100-yard receiving performances this season (100 vs. New Hampshire and 111 at Notre Dame) but Saturday was the first time in 2010 that he consistently made the high-difficulty catches that made him one of the nation's top receivers last year.
If Lewis and Baldwin can build from their performances against Rutgers, Pitt's future opponents might have some serious concerns about the Panthers' potency.
"We have a chance to be a great offense," Lewis said after the game. "We have a lot of play-makers and guys that are capable of making big plays in their own different ways and a lot of different styles. We're going to keep getting better every week."
While Lewis and Baldwin were working to get rolling through the first six games of the season, other weapons emerged on the Pitt offense. Sophomore running back Ray Graham rushed for more than 100 yards three times and gained 722 yards of total offense in five games. Redshirt sophomore receiver Mike Shanahan became a go-to target for quarterback Tino Sunseri. And redshirt freshman receiver Devin Street caught six passes for 142 yards against Notre Dame and Syracuse.
"We can be very dangerous and very scary," Graham said after the Rutgers game. "We put up a lot of points with everybody doing different things. It's scary when everybody gets going. We have a lot of weapons on offense and we can be a very dangerous team."
"We always feel like, on any given day, anybody's number can be called and anybody can come through with big plays and there are a lot of different guys who can do that," Sunseri said. "Today it was J.B. and Dion's day to have big games. Next week, it could be Devin Street and Mike Shanahan and Ray Graham; we want to put people on the field that can make plays."
In one sense, it was a benefit for the Pitt offense to have Lewis and Baldwin slump through the first five games, since the opportunities exposed new weapons in Graham, Shanahan, and Street. But if all five are playing at a high level, Pitt's offensive explosiveness could reach exponential levels.
"People are going to make plays; it's just a matter of who's going to make the plays," Lewis said. "We have a lot of people that are capable of making plays. Today it was me and Baldwin; I wouldn't have been surprised if it was Ray and Shanahan.
"We know we have a great offense, we just have to keep playing together and keep getting better."