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Irish offensive line blows holes in Pitt's hopes

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Dave Wannstedt promised to bring a new attitude of tough, physical football to the Pitt program when he was hired to coach the Panthers in December. He talked of a tough running game and a defense that would physically dominate and shut down opponents.

Wannstedt may still deliver all that, but last night he got a taste of reality as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish marched into Heinz Field then stomped all over the Panthers in one of the most-anticipated openers in Pitt history, 42-21. The beating was so bad that many of the 66,451 -- the second-largest crowd at Heinz Field to see a Pitt game -- began leaving midway through the third quarter.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis may be an offensive genius, but it certainly didn't take much imagination to figure out that the Panthers' defensive front could not match up against the formidable Irish offensive line.

As such, the game plan was simple -- pound the Panthers into submission with the running game, then knock them out cold with big plays in the passing game. The results were simply devastating as Notre Dame rushed for 275 yards on 50 carries.

The bludgeoning by Notre Dame's offensive line was so thorough that had the late Howard Cosell been the color commentator, he probably would have quit covering football the same way he quit covering boxing after watching Larry Holmes beat up Gerry Cooney all those years ago.

"I would say we won the line of scrimmage," Weis said. "Our players played very physical; that is what we are looking for, that is what we tried to do, and it showed up."

Despite the Panthers' obvious physical disadvantages, Wannstedt stepped up to the microphone at his post-game news conference and took blame for the loss, saying he didn't do a good job of getting the Panthers prepared to play a game of this magnitude.

I am disappointed," Wannstedt said. "I must have not done a good enough job myself of not letting our guys read newspapers and magazines and think that we were probably a little better football team and a little further along then what we are today. I, really, from a fundamental standpoint, particularly on defense, did not do a good enough job of getting these guys prepared.

"We also did not deal with adversity the way championship teams deal with adversity. We just didn't handle it well."

Pitt linebacker H.B. Blades added, "Football is a game of will, and they wanted it more than we did. There are no excuses, there are no fingers to point -- they just beat us in every aspect of the game."

Things got off to a good start for the Panthers as they took the opening kick and drove 73 yards in 8 plays and scored on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Palko to Greg Lee. The play was set up by the Panthers' running, and Palko's play-action pass on first down froze the safety and enabled Lee to get behind the secondary.

The Irish responded immediately with a six-play, 78-yard drive that took only 2:39. The drive served as the blueprint for the way Notre Dame would exploit its obvious advantage upfront.

The Irish began by running the ball five consecutive plays to get two first downs. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn then threw two screen passes, the second of which went to Darius Walker for 51 yards and a touchdown.

On the scoring play, Quinn looked downfield, but had enough time to scan the entire field before throwing it underneath to Walker, who had a host of blockers to escort him down the sideline.

Pitt was forced to punt on its next series, then stopped the Irish when Darrelle Revis intercepted a Quinn pass. The Panthers cashed in on the turnover when Josh Cummings kicked a (collegiate) Heinz Field-record 49-yard field goal.

At that point, all of the emotion and adrenaline the Panthers began the game with wore off, and their physical deficiencies became too much to overcome.

The Irish used a nine-play, 65-yard drive and took a 14-10 lead on a 2-yard run by Walker on their first series of the second quarter, then forced Pitt to punt and pushed their lead to 21-10 on the ensuing possession. The scoring play was a 2-yard run by Rashon Powers-Neal, but the score was set up by the two runs that preceded it, for a total of nine yards, by Washington High School graduate Travis Thomas.

Once again, the Irish marched down the field with little opposition. The result was a run defense that didn't get close to the runner until he was a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage and a pass rush that was non-existent.

"Going into the game, the game plan was to be as physical as possible," Powers-Neal said. "As the game went on, you could see us rolling. They were looking tired, worn out."

Any chance the Panthers had of getting back into the game, or at least matching the Irish score-for-score went out the window when Marcus Furman fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Notre Dame's Chinedum Ndukwe recovered it at the Panthers' 19.

Two plays later, Quinn put Pitt out of its misery with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Samardzija, who made an diving catch in the back of the end zone between safeties Mike Phillips and Tez Morris.


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I have to give those fans credit for staying until the 3rd quarter. I couldn't watch any more half way through the 2nd quarter. It was hard seeing one of the projected best Big East schools this year go down so hard. It was shocking.


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Hoping Pitt rebounds and doesn't falter any further ... ND may be for real.

Go BULLS !!!

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