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Pitt striving to balance offensive attack

| Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005

The Pitt offense is off-balance.

From Dave Wannstedt on the sideline, to Tyler Palko behind center, to Raymond Kirkley in the backfield, to Charles Spencer on the line, there is a need to balance the Panthers' attack.

"When people say 'balanced,' when we do run the football, we need to make positive yards on first and second downs," said Palko, who was forced to throw 58 passes in Friday's 37-29 loss at Rutgers.

"It's not to say we have to be 50-50, but we need to be able to run the ball as well as we pass the ball. We need to be able to do what it takes against a particular defense each week."

After Pitt fell behind 27-0 at halftime, Palko took to the air, finishing 35 for 58 for 371 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. But it wasn't -- and hasn't been -- Pitt's year-long game plan to rely so heavily on Palko's left arm in Wannstedt's first season as coach.

"It's terrible," Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said of the offense's lack of balance. "Obviously, we didn't run the ball worth a darn. It's very disappointing."

The huge deficit facing the Panthers in the second half dictated their decision to abandon the run. They finished the game with minus-11 yards rushing.

"Give Rutgers some credit. They did a good job of scheming our running game," Pitt running backs coach David Walker said. "It was not a good showing (for Pitt) to say the least."

Kirkley, who gained 15 yards on eight carries, said the players haven't thought about giving up.

"We keep working on things every day, every practice, to try to resolve the mistakes," he said. "When things happen in the game, you just try not to get down."

Wannstedt said Kirkley will get help this week with the return of running back Rashad Jennings, the team's opening-game starter who has missed three games with a shoulder injury.

Wannstedt presided over a second consecutive intense practice yesterday at the Panthers' South Side facility and could only hope his players were thinking about turning around a dismal season thus far. Pitt (1-4, 0-1) plays host to Big East newcomer Cincinnati (2-2, 0-0) on Saturday at Heinz Field.

"(Tuesday) might have been as physical a practice as we've had since training camp, and that's what we've got to do," Wannstedt said. "We've got to find a way to get better and develop guys. It's part of the process."

Everyone in the Pitt camp this week is well aware of the task facing them for the rest of the season: Win at least 5 of 6 games and finish above .500 for a sixth consecutive season.

But the Panthers must contend with a remaining schedule that features games, following Saturday's home contest, against four other Big East opponents, including No. 23 Louisville (Nov. 3) and backyard rival West Virginia (Nov. 24), both on the road.

"We have to find the true character of this team. We've got to think highly of ourselves," said Spencer, Pitt's 330-pound senior tackle. "We're 1-4 right now, but we're not looking in the past. We can only go forward from this point."

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