After Pitt’s big win last Saturday against Virginia Tech, much has been made of the way Tino Sunseri and the Panthers offense performed.
Why not? All Sunseri did was win Big East Offensive Player of the Week after completing 19 of 28 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns. In addition, the Pitt offense racked up 537 yards, their highest total since 2000.
However, while Sunseri and freshman running back Rushel Shell’s 157 yards on the ground were a big part of the Panthers victory, that wasn’t the most encouraging part of Saturday’s upset.
While the offense gets all of the accolades, it’s the Pitt defense that took the biggest step forward and is the cause for the most optimism as the Panthers face FCS opponent Gardner-Webb Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.
The Panthers’ defense forced four Virginia Tech turnovers, including three Logan Thomas interceptions. In addition, the Pitt front pressured Thomas often, recording a pair of sacks and making Thomas uncomfortable for most of the game.
But even more impressive was the fact that Pitt held the Hokies to a mere 59 yards rushing. That’s the same Pitt defense that allowed 259 yards on the ground last week to Cincinnati and 204 the week before against FCS Youngstown State.
As a unit, the Panthers covered receivers much better than they did during the prior two weeks and they were much more physical up front, beating the Hokies up in the trenches.
That’s the most encouraging sign of Pitt’s performance against Virginia Tech.
It could mean that the Panthers are finally buying into what new defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable is selling.
But with Gardner-Webb upcoming on the schedule, the Panthers have another week to come together as a defense before they enter the meat of their Big East schedule.