It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
If Charles Dickens played quarterback, he would have been Bill Stull this past Saturday.
Give Stull credit. He initially played so putrid, he was on his way to single-handedly sabotaging Pitt’s season. But Stull showed GUTS in the second half, undid his own damage and propelled Pitt to a crucial Big East Conference win over Connecticut.
Don’t pity Stull because Pitt fans jeer him. It’s part of the job. Anyway, the barrage of boos at the start of the second half weren’t directed at Stull. The Heinz Field faithful were lamenting Dave Wannstedt’s decision to leave Stull in the game.
It was a reasonable opinion to have.
In the first half, Stull was as bad as a quarterback could possibly be. The Pitt senior made Kordell Stewart at his worst look like Johnny Unitas in his prime.
Stull served up an end-zone INT at the beginning of the second quarter, throwing the ball to UConn’s Robert Vaughn as he stood between Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham, both free.
Stull had earlier seen his bomb to a wide-open Jonathan Baldwin thwarted because he just couldn’t get it there. Lack of arm strength made Stull put too much air under his ball, and six points were batted away by UConn’s Robert McClain.
Pitt was also victimized when Dion Lewis dropped a TD pass. Instead of leading by double digits at the half, Pitt trailed 7-3.
Things quickly went from bad to worse when Stull used his first pass of the second half to serve up a pick-six to Vaughn. Pitt’s confidence was dashed. The Panthers were soon down, 21-6.
But Stull dug deep.
He was 1-for-3 on the possession after the interception return. After that, Stull was 9-for-9 for 139 yards and two TDs: Baldwin from 26 yards out, Dorin Dickerson from 27 yards away. Stull also hit Cedric McGee for the game-tying two-point conversion.
Dan Hutchins hit a chip-shot field goal at the buzzer, and Pitt had eked out a 24-21 victory. A win is a win is a win…
“Tough” is the word most often applied to Stull. If “tough” is the word that tops a quarterback’s list of attributes, that’s not good. Toughness certainly isn’t as important as arm strength, accuracy, mobility, pocket awareness, leadership, etc.
But Stull is what he is. Saturday, “tough” paid dividends. If Stull can use the rally he engineered as a launching pad to bigger and better, that’s what he needs and what Pitt needs.
A few random Pitt observations:
*New offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. has distinguished himself through his use of Dorin Dickerson. Dickerson was a man without a position during his first three seasons at Pitt, his talent wasted despite being one of the team’s fastest, strongest and most athletic. Cignetti basically turned him into an H-back, lining him up in various spots, and the result has been 21 catches and seven touchdowns. When Dickerson plays on Sundays – and he will – he should thank Cignetti for salvaging a career ruined by Matt Cavanaugh’s old-school ineptitude.
*Freshman running back Dion Lewis is no Tony Dorsett, but he’s close enough. Lewis is excellent at making subtle shifts during runs, changing the defense’s angle of pursuit just enough to make would-be tacklers run by him or glance off him. Fellow frosh Ray Graham isn’t bad, either. It’s a potent 1-2 punch.
*Sometimes Dave Wannstedt still coaches like he’s in the NFL. When he played it safe on Pitt’s last drive, laying up for the short field goal, he was tempting fate. Dan Hutchins isn’t Jan Stenerud, he’s a former walk-on, and that kick was from a sharp angle.
*If you’re looking for some offbeat halftime fun, watch Pitt’s baton twirlers. CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! They put it on the ground more than Limas Sweed, and the reactions are often hilarious