Game week is finally upon the Pitt football team. The Panthers are in their final preparations for the season opener at Utah on Thursday night. According to Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt, the coaches can't get caught up in the hype of the coming game.
Put another way, keep it simple.
"The biggest challenge for our coaches right now would be, let's make sure we don't try to invent any new plays or any new defenses at this point."
Pitt will release its first injury report of the season on Tuesday, but Wannstedt spoke optimistically about the status of several injured Panthers.
"From an injury standpoint, we are probably about as healthy as we could expect coming out of a very physical training camp. Greg Romeus is a big topic, and he's been great the last week. Ray Graham is very close; he practiced in team (drills) yesterday and he will be available to play.
"From an injury standpoint, at least today, we're in pretty good shape. So it's just a matter of taking care of the final details these last couple days and getting ready to go."
Taking the pressure off
It's no secret that redshirt sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri will make his first career start on Thursday night. The pressure will be on Sunseri to lead the team to victory, so Wannstedt gave his quarterback some words of guidance late last week.
"Tino and I talked two days ago. We sat in my office and talked for awhile, and I gave him a few stories of other quarterbacks, both on this level and the NFL, that I've been around that were starting their careers for the first time. I really wanted to make the point to him that he's one of 11 players on offense, and we really are not the type of offense…does he have to make plays? Sure, he does. But Lucas Nix has to make blocks and Baldwin needs to make catches and Dion needs to make runs. But I want him to have the mindset of being confident but going into this thing feeling that there's no more of a burden on his shoulder to carry any more than any other player on offense."
Facing a challenge
Pitt will open the season on the road for the first time since 1993, and the last time Pitt started a season on the road against another top 25 team was 1976. That's quite a change from the Youngstown State's of the world, who Pitt usually opens with.
"It's one of those games where I think, one turnover might mean the difference in the game. A bad decision in the kicking game might be the decision in the game. A broken coverage for a touchdown might be…you know, there's less room for error when you're playing a very good football team, a ranked football team, at home as compared to an opponent where you can maybe make a mistake and you're good enough talent-wise to overcome it.
Covering the spread
In the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, Utah's spread offense wreaked havoc on Pitt's defense to the tune of 467 yards and 35 points. But Wannstedt said on Monday that the Utes are more dangerous for how versatile the offense is, so even though Pitt faces spread offenses throughout the season, this game's challenge will be unique.
"I would say a combination (of teams Pitt has seen), a little bit of West Virginia, a little bit of South Florida. Then all of a sudden they'll jump in a Wildcat like Rutgers did with their receiver and they'll run their Wildcat package. They've got a lot of offense."
While the spread offense has proliferated throughout college football over the past decade, Wannstedt has kept Pitt in a fairly rigid pro-style offense, and he doesn't intend to change anytime soon.
"We know what we're doing from a technical standpoint and a scheme standpoint, we believe in it, and I think that we can recruit players here to fill those roles. If we couldn't get good backs here, if we couldn't get quarterbacks who could throw the ball, then you do what they do in high school: you move your best athlete there and you run the spread."
Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City sits at 4,657 feet, but Wannstedt isn't concerned about the effects of altitude.
"Every place I've coached for 16 years, we went out (to Denver) the day before, lined up, and played. That's Dallas, Chicago, and Miami. I think all the studies will tell you that if you wanted to make a total adjustment, you have to be out there three days. It takes 72 hours. So even going that extra day like some of the NFL teams do, it doesn't do anything. You go out, you line up, and you play."
Wannstedt added that depth will be the key to avoiding fatigue in the elevation.
"Fortunately we're fully healthy, so we'll be able to play guys."
Redshirt senior center Alex Karabin was awarded a scholarship at the end of training camp, and redshirt junior quarterback/holder Andrew Janocko had his scholarship renewed as well. Wannstedt also announced that redshirt sophomore safety Pat Costello will go on scholarship.
Quote of the day
"Everybody's got a plan until you get in the ring and get hit in the mouth; then we'll see how good your plan is."