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Spirited practices working well for Pitt football team

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 11:18 p.m.
Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri (12) plays in the NCAA football game between Pittsburgh and Youngstown State on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012 from the rotinda at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Nobody on the Pitt football team expected to get a breather during the bye week.

Good thing, too.

Coach Paul Chryst treated practice like the middle of training camp, even though the next game — Friday at Syracuse — was more than a week in the future.

“Coach had us going hard every day,” wide receiver Cam Saddler said. “That was something different.”

Saddler, a fifth-year senior, said that was the first time he could remember the team wearing pads during practice when there wasn't a game to play that week.

“With our last coach (Todd Graham), we weren't in pads a lot, really,” he said. “Coach (Dave) Wannstedt used to put us in some pads, though, but I don't think during bye weeks.”

Chryst set up scrimmage situations, with the first-team offense tangling with the first-team defense. At the end, he matched the younger players against one another, with the veterans on the sideline, shouting encouragement.

“It was competitive,” Saddler said.

Said Chryst: “(We were) doing some ‘good against good' and trying to maintain playing and adjusting (to game situations), so that we don't have a big adjustment to the speed of the game.”

Maybe Pitt needed a change in its off-week regimen. The Panthers have lost five of their past seven games after a week's rest. Chryst didn't want his team resting on its two-game winning streak. After all, the Panthers (2-2) have played only half of their games against FBS schools, so each success must be seen in that light.

“It wasn't all perfect the last two games,” he said, “so I hope we're getting better and not just trying to ride that wave.”

Pitt plays six games in the next six weeks, with four on the road. It will be a grueling test to determine whether Pitt can challenge for the Big East championship in its last season in the conference.

“I feel like everyone has gone to work in the last week and a half,” Saddler said. “We want to win. We are on a roll. We are feeling good about ourselves.”

Quarterback Tino Sunseri said he spent time with the video machine, looking at “the good, the bad and the ugly” of his season.

He has increased his yardage total every week, but the competition will get tougher. Among the upcoming opponents are three unbeaten teams — No. 19 Louisville, No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 22 Rutgers.

Even Syracuse (1-3) will present a challenge for the Panthers. The Orange lead the Big East and are 27th in the nation in total offense, averaging 487.5 yards per game.

Saddler said, if necessary, the Panthers can match Syracuse blow for blow. After all, Pitt is less than a yard behind the Orange in offensive productivity (486.8).

“I don't think it's going to come to it, but if it comes to a shootout, our guns will be loaded,” Saddler said. “We'll be ready to go.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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