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Pitt's offense key to team's success for rest of season

| Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, 10:09 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Manasseh Garner celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against Florida State on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field.

You're a Pitt fan and your team is 4-2.

Should you celebrate and start planning your holiday bowl trip?Or, should you hold your breath and wait for disappointment to again blanket the program?

With half a season left to play — starting Saturday against Navy in Annapolis, Md. — Pitt could go in either direction. And a slumping offense could dictate the terms.

It was only last month that Pitt's offense scored seven touchdowns and amassed 598 total yards — 50 short of the school record — in a 58-55 victory against Duke.

But the numbers have been less swollen the past three weeks, with Pitt averaging only 259.6 yards per game. Injuries to three starters — wide receiver Devin Street, running back James Conner and left guard Cory King — partially are to blame, but no one is feeling sorry for the Panthers.

Not even the Panthers.

“I felt like we could have done way better (in 35-24 victory against Old Dominion last Saturday),” said tight end/wide receiver Manasseh Garner, who replaced Street in the starting lineup and caught a touchdown pass (one of only two for Pitt in the past three games). “We are not satisfied with what we did Saturday night.”

The improvement was tangible against Old Dominion, but hardly satisfying. Tom Savage was sacked only twice after getting dumped 15 times in the previous two games, but his overall completion percentage (56.8) has fallen to 13th among 16 ACC quarterbacks.

Isaac Bennett ran for 240 yards, but the quality and size of the opponent were nothing like Pitt will see in its four remaining ACC games or against Notre Dame.

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said his unit has lacked consistent execution. Pitt, which is ranked 92nd in the nation in total offense (366.8 yards per game), scored five touchdowns in a 29-minute span from the start of the second quarter to the outset of the fourth. But it gave up the football several other times, including settling for two punts and a fourth-down failure while trying to run out the clock.

“We were a little slow getting started and didn't finish quite the way we wanted to finish,” Rudolph said. “We missed a couple things early, in the backfield, and then Isaac got going.”

Rudolph wants to see success a bit more frequently than sometimes, referencing this quote attributed to Willie Mays:

“It isn't hard to be good from time to time. What's tough is being good every day.”

While trying to change the culture of the Pitt program, coaches are challenging the players to refuse to accept mediocrity.

“Every (play), can you be the best you? That's our battle right now,” Rudolph said.

“There is no question it's important (to them), but is it important when you've just taken 12 (plays) in a row and you're dead tired.

“When it's a difficult look or a harder block or a better (opponent), can you still execute at those times? That's what we're chipping at.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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