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Pitt's problems are a team effort


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PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko said moments after the Panthers' 37-29 loss at Rutgers that he is struggling to find "a safe place in the pocket" to stand and deliver passes.

Good luck.

True the Panthers have many problems -- a 1-4 record (0-4 vs. Division I-A teams) would seem to suggest as much. But one thing that has become increasingly clear is that the offensive line is incapable of blocking effectively and there appears to be few solutions.

Palko dropped to pass 63 times Friday. He was sacked five times, the Scarlet Knights were credited with 20 quarterback hurries and even though there is no official statistic for "hits taken," he likely set a school record in that category. Rarely did he finish a passing play on his feet.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt did not comment specifically on the offensive line other than to say, "They blitzed us early but at the end of the game, they were rushing three guys and we had difficulty with both. We had a very difficult time [protecting Palko], a very difficult time. He got hit on almost every play until the last play of the game. On that last snap, he got knocked on his back."

"I'd really rather not comment on that," was Palko's response when asked if he was getting shell shocked because of the offensive line's inability to protect him this season and all of the hits he has taken.

Palko did offer, "When you start worrying about making sure you are safe in the pocket, your vision is not down field all the time and you are a little late to look at the coverage and the secondary."

Translation -- "It is hard to throw from a horizontal position and it is even harder to play quarterback when you face a jail break every play."

The offensive line's struggles, however, go further than just failing to protect Palko.

The running game, which has been a major point of emphasis with the new coaching staff, was non-existent and not for lack of trying.

Pitt fell behind so quickly it was forced to pass more than normal, but the run game was ineffective from the start because the backs were getting hit before they got to the line of scrimmage.

Pitt rushed 25 times for a minus-11 yards, although that figure also includes sacks. Still, without the sack yardage factored in, Pitt ran 20 times for a paltry 47 yards, or 2.3 yards per carry.

Starting tailback Raymond Kirkley was the team's leading rusher with eight carries for 15 yards and Tim Murphy was second with seven carries for 8 yards. Tailback Rashad Jennings, who began the season as the starter, was in uniform but never played.

Palko said the lack of a running game was more troublesome than the sacks he took because it made passing the ball even more difficult.

"It is frustrating not being able to have a balanced attack, no matter what the case is," Palko said. "I know it sounds strange coming from a quarterback, but I'd rather not have to throw the ball every down. When you are throwing the football every down, you aren't winning and we can run the football.

"It is not as if we stink running the football or stink in pass protection, it is maybe one breakdown here or one there on every play. You can't ever just blame one person or one unit."

The good news for the offensive line is that Palko is correct. Blame can be assigned to a number of areas. In fact, Friday's loss, more than any other this season, was a product of the Panthers' inability to play well in any of the three phases of the game.

The defense was shredded for 453 yards -- 203 on the ground -- and registered only one sack. On special teams, Pitt fumbled a kickoff return and allowed a punt return to go for a touchdown.

Palko said the most important thing the Panthers can do in order to get back on the winning track is take responsibility for their part in the loss.

"Football is a team game and when even one person makes a mistake on any play -- like when I fumbled -- it costs the whole team," Palko said. "That's why this is the greatest game ever invented. You depend on every one else. You can't sit here and finger point because it is everybody."


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