It's tough to imagine a sense of optimism around Pitt's offensive line after the season-opening loss to Florida State left the Panthers at No. 107 in the nation in total offense and No. 106 in rushing offense. But that's exactly the feeling around the team's South Side facility as it prepares for Saturday's home game against New Mexico.
"I think our potential is amazing," redshirt junior guard Matt Rotheram said Monday. "This has the most potential of any offensive line I've played on here and it's exciting. I think we can be really, really good. We just have to clean up a few things. A little thing here and there, and we could really be a good unit."
Those are interesting sentiments about a unit that produced less than 300 yards of total offense and didn't top the 100-yard rushing mark, but it seems that Pitt's coaches and players have a fair amount of confidence in the group.
Part of that stems from youth and the potential inexperience carries with it. Against Florida State, Pitt used a redshirt freshman at left tackle, a converted defensive end at right tackle and a first-time starter at center. Plus Rotheram and Cory King made their first starts at guard after working at tackle last season.
As such, the belief at Pitt is that the young and inexperienced linemen suffered from mental mistakes and errors rather than a talent deficiency when facing the Seminoles.
"I don't feel like there was anything in the game that would lead you to believe we were out-physicalled at all," offensive line coach Jim Hueber said Wednesday. "Does that mean we weren't on the edge? Does that mean we didn't take the wrong step? No. But those things are things that we have to work on to correct, all of us, coaches, players. But we don't have any problem with what the physical effort was. None at all. None."
Rotheram said that youth reared its head on the offensive line and at other positions on offense. But at times last Monday, like during Pitt's game-opening 80-yard touchdown drive, he thought the offense showed signs of potential.
"You hope that wouldn't happen, but it's tough for guys in their first game," Rotheram said. "There were times in the Florida State game where we were out there and I could feel it. I could feel that we were going to be a good team. I could feel it on the first drive. It was like, 'Wow, if we can work together like this, move the ball, run the ball like this, protect the quarterback, we can really be special.'
"It shows up here and there, but other times we were making dumb mistakes, making mental errors, and it was killing us. At times like that, you were second-guessing. But you could definitely feel it out there at times."
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