Pitt football team is still a work in progress

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011

Pitt defensive coordinator Keith Patterson allowed himself the luxury of glancing into the future Tuesday.

Taking a break from preparing for a nonconference game Saturday against Utah, Patterson was asked what the defense might look like three recruiting classes from now, when he finally gets a chance to put his stamp on it.

"Oh, yeah," Patterson said. "It will look different."

Finding the appropriate athletes for the aggressive, attacking schemes on both sides of the ball was difficult — if not impossible — for the Pitt coaching staff, which was hired in January, less than a month before signing day.

But Patterson said players are starting to understand concepts, which gives them the freedom to use their athleticism. Another few offseasons, with some carefully selected recruits blended into the mix, may provide additional help.

"I think you got a glimpse of it in the second half of South Florida (when the Panthers kept the Bulls scoreless)," he said. "Attacking, athletic, edge blitzers and getting athleticism in the underneath coverage. There is no doubt you will see a difference as we move through this process, and it is a process."

After six games and three defeats, Pitt's defense sits far down the NCAA rankings in three major categories — turnovers created (seven, 87th), interceptions (three, 92nd) and total yards (390.5, 68th).

Meanwhile, the offense is 76th in total yards (379.2) and 84th in turnovers lost (11). Quarterback Tino Sunseri is 84th in passing efficiency (116.81) and 68th in yards per game (194.3).

It's a marked contrast to coach Todd Graham's Tulsa teams, three of which were ranked No. 1 (twice) and No. 5 in total offense. A year ago, Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne, who transferred to Tulsa from Texas before Graham's second season, averaged 280.8 passing yards and was 28th in passing efficiency (144.33).

Scout.com recruiting analyst Bob Lichtenfels doesn't believe Pitt has the elite skill players necessary to facilitate a move from a pro style offense to Graham's speed-based no-huddle.

"Coaches that go from a pro style to a spread have a harder transition," said Lichtenfels, noting Rich Rodriguez's similar problems trying to make the change at Michigan. "It's going to take Graham two or three years until he gets those type of guys. You are basically changing every position."

The problem is that Graham expects to win now, and he disagrees with anyone suggesting growing pains can't be overcome.

"I'm telling you it's unacceptable, period," he said. "We should not be doing this six games into the season."

He admits, though, "There have been more than I thought there would be."

What makes him even more upset are critics who want him to simplify the offense.

"We are running this offense. I am not scaling it back. I'm not doing it," he said, defiantly. "We have to figure out how to get those guys to do it."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who has watched Pitt video the past two seasons, said complete and immediate implementation of Graham's systems is difficult to attain.

"I am sure coach Graham needs to recruit a couple years to get the exact type of players he needs," he said. "When you make that much of a change, it is going to be a little bit of a transition before you get all the parts in place."

Pitt's 2012 recruiting class includes one four-star skill player, quarterback Chad Voytik, but Hopewell's Rushel Shell, one of the most coveted running back recruits in the nation, lists Pitt as one of his finalists. He said he will announce his decision Friday.

"He's going to be good in any offense," Lichtenfels said.

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