Stevens: A Look At The Pittsburgh Panthers
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  09/10/2013

New Mexico Lobos Football --- at Pittsburgh Panthers

When/Where:  10 a.m. (MT), Saturday – Pittsburgh – Heinz Field

On The Air: 770-AM – Lobo Radio Network; ESPN3, My50-TV, ACC Network

GoLobos.com:  Game Story, Statistics, LoboTV

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com 

This isn’t exactly stop-the-presses type of news but here is what the Lobos will be facing Saturday in Pittsburgh.

A Panthers’ team that lost on ESPN 41-13 to nationally-ranked Florida State and wants to do better.

A team that needs and wants the first win of the season.

A team that had an off week to prepare for the University of New Mexico’s pistol offense.

For sure, the Panthers will be motivated for the Lobos – prepared, too.

 “Our guys competed, but we’ve got to be and do more than that,” Pitt Coach Paul Chryst told the Post-Gazette after the loss to FSU.

The Panthers probably are looking at the Lobos as a team that Pitt can do more against.  The Lobos are in the second year of rebuilding under Coach Bob Davie and the Lobo coach has never sidestepped the state of his program or his team.  The Lobos are well coached, improving, but there are some needs.

One need was answered in UNM’s 42-35 overtime win at UTEP this past Saturday.  The Lobos found a way to win.

It’s reasonable to think that the Panthers eye the Lobos as their path to evening out their season record at 1-1. That’s how football players/athletes think.  The Lobos aren’t going East thinking about a loss.

One thing is for sure: the Panthers can’t allow the Lobos and Kasey Carrier to run up and down Heinz Field.  The Lobos’ running game makes them a dangerous visitor.

It’s also reasonable to expect that the Panthers will have some sort of defensive scheme mapped out for the Lobos’ running game that rocked the UTEP Miners for 395 yards on the ground in UNM’s dramatic 42-35 OT win in El Paso.  The Panthers, coming off a bye week, will have had two weeks to prepare for that UNM option.

The Lobos can run it.  They didn’t come into the Sun Bowl with any mystery shrouding their “pistol” attack and handed off the ball to Kasey Carrier 41 times.   Carrier ran for 291 yards.  The combination of the Lobo offensive line and the Miners’ defense made Carrier look NFL.

The Panthers’ defense made a Seminole freshman look NFL two weeks ago.

Pitt has only three 0-2 starts in the past 30 seasons.  They are 0-1 because the Florida State Seminoles are very good and because the Panthers are still in a rebuilding swing under second-year coach Paul Chryst.  But Pitt isn’t bad.

Pitt went to a bowl game in 2012 behind Chryst – just barely.  He actually left his alma mater (Wisconsin) to become a Panther, but the jump from offensive coordinator to head man is understandable.   Wisconsin might come calling down the road.  Chryst has a reputation as an offensive guru – but not yet at Pitt.

The Panthers won their final six regular-season games in 2012 to slip into the Compass Bowl.    Pitt beat two Top 25 opponents last year and the Panthers didn’t schedule the Lobos to go 0-2.  This is a game that Pitt and Panther fans expect to win.   But they need to play better on both sides of the ball.

The Seminoles’ QB Jameis Winston blistered a good Panthers’ secondary for 356 yards and four TDs completing 93 percent of his passes – 25-of-27.  The Panthers might be thankful that the Lobos prefer to run.

Pitt, in its debut in the Atlantic Coast Conference, simply couldn’t keep up with the Seminole athletes.  FSU had 533 total yards by adding a respectable 156 yards on the ground.  Pitt had 201 yards passing and only 96 rushing for its 297 total.  Pitts was solid on special teams and was called for only four penalties worth 26 yards.   They were 2-of-8 on third down conversions.

One of the best Panthers vs. Florida State was senior Matt Yoklic.  The Lobos hope to see him often.  He is Pitt’s punter.  He averaged 54.3 yards on three boots vs. Florida State.

The Panthers played a lot of pups vs. the Seminoles – 11 true and seven redshirt freshmen.  One of those first-year Panthers played well. Tyler Boyd had a game-high 151 all-purpose yards.    He ran for 54 on three end-arounds.  He is dangerous with the ball.

The Panthers have a top-notch receiver in Devin Street, who hauled in six passes for a career-high 141 yards.

The Panthers lost a good quarterback in 2012 in Tino Sunseri, who passed for 3,288 yards. They go into the 2013 season pulling Tom Savage out of Sunseri’s shadow and looking to groom him into a winner.  Savage has bounced around.  The senior played two years at Rutgers and one year at Arizona before coming back East to Pittsburgh.

Savage went 15-of-28 against a quick and athletic FSU team and managed to throw one touchdown against two interceptions. Lobo Coach Bob Davie said he expects the Panthers to throw the ball more than UTEP did against the young Lobo secondary.  Street will test that secondary. He had 73 grabs in 2012.

The Panthers surely will go aerial on the Lobos.  They probably want to use the Lobos to establish some confidence in their running game, too.   Pitt threw out three first-time starters on the offensive line vs. Florida State.

The Panthers had a solid defense in 2012 allowing 330.5 yards per game which was good enough to earn the No. 17th spot nationally.  After Florida State, they are around 200 yards behind that pace. In 2013, that unit is led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has 19.5 career sacks, and safety Jason Hendricks, who led Pitt in tackles (90) in 2012.

Hendricks anchors a secondary which also returns K’Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts.  That trio had 11 picks in 2012 – none vs. Florida State.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.