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Offensive Line Paving Way for Pitt Offense

Center Robb Houser in action during Pitt's 38-3 win over Youngstown State

Center Robb Houser in action during Pitt's 38-3 win over Youngstown State

Sept. 16, 2009

In the 54 times that Pitt quarterbacks have dropped back to pass this season, they’re yet to be taken down for a sack by the opposition. That’s the type of thing Bill Stull can get used to.

“Our guys up front have handled themselves very well,” said Stull, a senior who has five touchdown passes on the year. “It’s awesome for myself and Tino [Sunseri].”

What’s even better for Pitt right now is the fact that the Panthers’ offensive line is helping the offense, both on the ground and in the air, to one of its better starts in the last few seasons. Pitt currently ranks seventh nationally in scoring with 46 points per game, has the nation’s third-leading rusher in Dion Lewis and is a perfect 11-of-11 in scoring during trips inside the red zone.

The strong offensive statistics are shown by players like Lewis and Dorin Dickerson, who have combined for nine touchdowns. But it starts on the offensive line, which coach Dave Wannstedt credited during his Monday press conference. Wannstedt said that he’s happy with the improvement he’s seen in the last week from the line, which has paved the way for a Pitt running attack that averages 6.5 yards per rush.

“We’re meshing real well,” Pitt senior guard Joe Thomas said. “Everyone is responding to the coaching points by coach [Tony] Wise. We’ve got experienced guys on the line, this is what we expect.”

Experience could be an understatement. The Panthers returned four starters on a line that helped former Pitt tailback LeSean McCoy reach 1,488 yards and 21 touchdowns last year, so the unit knows what it takes to have a successful game on the ground.

The Panthers lost only starting lineman C.J. Davis to graduation after last year, and sophomore Lucas Nix, a high-school All-American who lettered in his freshman year for the Panthers, filled in on the line after some position swaps.

Nix played last year behind Thomas, who then anchored the right side of the line at tackle. That’s helped him learn the position at a quicker rate and see what’s needed to make the next step forward.

“Last year, when he was playing behind me, anything that I did wrong he would take notes on,” Thomas said of Nix. “He learned from my mistakes, too. He picked up right where I left off last year.”

The Panthers are also helped by the fact that the offensive line faces a deep Pitt defensive front every day in practice – a unit that’s come through with 10 sacks for 73 yards in losses during its first two games.

Still, even with all of that time on the field, Thomas said he and his teammates know that it’s more than just game-experience that will make the line continue its success this year. And he’s making sure that every opponent is taken as seriously as possible.

“There’s always room to improve everything,” he said. “We look at each opponent as, ‘This is the biggest game that we play.’ The importance of every game is huge to us.”