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Different challenge for Pitt's Mason

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By Ralph Paulk
Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009

Pitt freshman linebacker Dan Mason, the reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Week, may have to play outside his comfort zone Saturday against North Carolina State's spread offense and versatile quarterback Russell Wilson.

"(Wilson) can throw outside the pocket," said Mason, who had 11 tackles and two sacks against Navy last week. "I dropped back a couple of times against Navy. It's something I have to work on. I rather stop the run, but (passing) is part of the game, so I have to take on that challenge."

Wilson, by the way, could be without one of his primary targets. Owen Spencer, who has five catches and a touchdown, is doubtful.

Tackling the Wolfpack

Considering that Buffalo amassed 208 yards on four plays against Pitt, Coach Dave Wannstedt said Wednesday that tackling the Wolfpack's big-play threats - including flanker Jarvis Williams and tight end George Bryan - is critical. "We're going to have to tackle well," he said. "They are going to have situations where they're going to be one-on-one in the open field.

"We've got to get them on the ground, and there's no easy way around that. We tackled good against Navy, but we didn't tackle good against Buffalo."

Third-down worries?

The Panthers' offense has been productive in the red zone (16 of 16) but has not been nearly as effective on third down. Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, though, isn't overly concerned. "Our goal is to maximize possessions in the red zone," Cignetti said. "When you look at third downs, we've had drops and penalties. Are we concerned about our third-down package• Absolutely not. We have total confidence."

Finding his own way

Cignetti said he spent little time reviewing last year's film in deciding what kind of identity the Panthers would have this season. "I haven't watched a lot of last year's tape because I want to move forward," he said. "I want to form my own opinions. I want to see where I can take (quarterback) Billy (Stull). (Former offensive coordinator) Matt Cavanaugh built a foundation that made the transition here for me easy."

This and that

• The Wolfpack will start two freshmen (safeties Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff) in the secondary, but Pitt receiver Jonathan Baldwin doesn't view that as a weakness for North Carolina State. "They know what's going on," said Baldwin, who along with tight end Dorin Dickerson leads Pitt with 13 receptions. "I wouldn't call them regular freshmen."

• Before Cignetti and the entire coaching staff was let go at North Carolina, the Tar Heels had a legitimate shot a landing Wilson. But Cignetti called his brother, Curt, a former North Carolina State assistant now at Alabama, to recommend signing Wilson.

• Pitt guard Gus Mustakas compares North Carolina State to South Florida. "Their quarterback is athletic like (USF's Matt) Grothe," Mustakas said. "They run the same type of offense with a couple of reads, but they won't be scared to throw it down the field, either."

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