Defense Dominates Pitt Spring Game

Jonathan Baldwin scored the only touchdown.

One year after lighting up the scoreboard on offense, Pitt's defense rattled and wrecked the offense during a 54-23 victory in the annual Blue-Gold game Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.

The Blue (defense) held the Gold (offense) to just conventional 10 points, but a modified scoring system was used where both units earn points for long runs and passes, as well as first downs, changes of possession and turnovers.

Head coach Dave Wannstedt has been around some great defenses during his lengthy tenure in the NFL and at the college level, and the Panthers have a chance to be among the best he's had at Pittsburgh.

"As a group, on the defensive line, ability-wise we've got some players and we've got some depth,'' Wannstedt said. "I think we've had some outstanding players before, but whether we've been as deep as we our now (on defense), probably not. But the biggest challenge for us defensively as coaches is ... for us to keep that edge. (And) if we give great effort and know what to do each week, we'll play great defense.

"Last year, we walked out of the spring game, and ... we scored a ton of points on offense, the first three or four times we had the ball, and I remember saying that we had some work to do on defense. But I was very pleased on offense, so I think it'll all equal itself out. ... We have work to do in all phases, and we know that. But I'm not going to overreact.''

Fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull was the most-productive at 12-for-17 for 132 yards and one touchdown, a 54-yard toss to Jonathan Baldwin. The sophomore wideout had five catches for 75 yards. But the running game was stagnant from the outset, and freshman Dion Lewis led all backs with 34 yards on 12 carries and a long run for nine yards. Overall, including six sacks, Pitt had 16 net rushing yards on 37 carries.

Redshirt freshman Chris Burns ran for 13 yards on 11 carries with a long run for eight yards, and redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris had no positive yardage in three carries. Seniors Cedric McGee and Oderick Turner followed Baldwin with three catches each.

"Offensively, I thought Billy handled things well from a quarterback's standpoint,'' Wannstedt said. "I don't know how fair it was to get a real thorough evaluation out of anything because of the lack of time that they had (to throw). There were some penalties out there, and there were times when we backed our offense up and put them in a long-yardage situation.

"(And) when you get in those, particular against our defense, you're going to have a tough time. The running backs all performed today about how they performed throughout the spring. I thought they were steady, but we have to run the football better. That's no secret.

"If we don't run the football,'' Wannstedt added, "we won't be an effective offense. So, that will be a point of emphasis. ... Dion Lewis made some guys miss, but that was one area we need to focus in and will be a priority when we get going in training camp.''

Junior Pat Bostick (4-for-10 for 31 yards) and redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri (5-for-15 for 38) both had rough games. Each quarterback threw an interception and was sacked. Stull was knocked down twice, Sunseri three times and Bostick once. Sunseri led the only other scoring drive that ended with a 36-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Kevin Harper.

"I think that we've all done a great job coping with the new offensive terminology, and we've all made some improvement,'' Stull said. "But we have a darn good defense and a heckuva defensive line, first and second team, so ... it's not easy for our offense. But I take it upon myself to do a better job, make more completions, better decisions and move the ball into the end zone.''

Defensively, fifth-year senior middle linebacker Steve Dell led the way with six total tackles, including three solo, while redshirt sophomore weak-side linebacker Max Gruder had five stops with four solo. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Brandon Lindsey, who switched from linebacker midway through the spring, had four solo tackles with two sacks.

Fifth-year senior tackle Mick Williams had two solo stops, including a sack, but he was disappointed that the first-team defense gave up a touchdown.

"We got beat just a couple plays into the game, and that can't happen,'' Williams said. "We did a pretty good job overall on defense, but I'm not too happy that they scored on us.''

Redshirt freshman defensive back Marco Pecora had an interception that he returned 25 yards. Redshirt junior safety Elijah Fields and sophomore safety Andrew Taglianetti also picked off passes.

The Ed Conway Award winners for most-improved players were Bostick on offense and Gruder on defense. Wideout Mike Shanahan and linebacker Joe Trebitz received freshman academic honors.

The attendance was 6,160 on a sunny, but cool day.

Pitt returns 14 starters and 51 lettermen from last season's 9-4 team that went to the Sun Bowl. The Panthers are already receiving advance praise with a No. 22 rating by CollegeFootballNews.com and No. 25 by SportsIllustrated.com.

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