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August 10, 2011

Can Pitt pull off the offense?

When he was hired in January, Todd Graham energized the Pitt fan base by bringing in his new, high-octane, high-scoring offensive attack, one that exists at the opposite end of the spectrum from Dave Wannstedt's pro-style approach. Graham promised yards and points in bunches, predicting fans wouldn't be able to sit down in their seats at Heinz Field.

Still, the question remains of just how potent this offense will be during the 2011 season. Despite the changes, the Pitt players show confidence in the new system.

"Barack Obama said it, there's nothing wrong with change," junior running back Ray Graham said with a laugh. "I think that's a good thing. Nothing against the pro-style offense, but I think the spread with the weapons that we have will be good. With a lot of people out there, we can get a lot of people the ball."

At this time last season, the Panthers were preparing to run Dave Wannstedt's slow and methodical pro-style offense. But following a tri-share of the Big East crown and two coaching changes, the Panthers are now running a high-octane, no-huddle offense.

Pitt used this summer to hammer down the offense's core principles to start camp ahead of the game. The Panthers have also conquered a rigorous, summer workout program to prepare for the physical demands of a no-huddle attack.

"It's kind of been a complete 360," junior receiver Mike Shanahan said of this season's different approach.

The approach means nothing if this offense can't produce on the field. Todd Graham has shown the ability to help offenses thrive.

In his first year at Rice, the Owls averaged five more points per game and reached a bowl for the first time in 45 years. The next year at Tulsa, he increased the offensive production with almost 12 more points per game and 140 more total offensive yards per contest.

Despite the differences in philosophies, certain principles remain the same from the pro-style to the no-huddle.

"We're still going to run the ball. We're still going to run the power," senior lineman Chris Jacobson said. "It's not just a spread offense, but it is an upbeat tempo."

The offense also wants to be able to alleviate pressure on the defense. Too many times last season, Pitt's defense was left out to dry by an anemic offense, and the Panthers suffered being unable to keep up with the scoring of other teams.

This season, Pitt wants to put pressure on their opponent to stay close to this high-powered offensive attack.

"We scored last year, but not enough," junior quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "We want to take some pressure off the defense and force a little bit of pressure on the (opposing) offense. We want to make sure they know we're going to be going down the field, scoring points, and they'll have to keep up with us."

The Panthers won't know exactly how this offense will run until they line up against Buffalo on Sept. 3. Pitt is using training camp to tweak and add to the base offense, but there's no shortage of confidence from the players.

The players believe they have what it takes to make this offense go. Sunseri is a solid quarterback and has weapons around him to make big plays this season. The Panthers have the ability to put up big numbers, and the players believe they can.

"I have faith in all my teammates and the coaches too that we can put a special season together," Shanahan said. "We have a ton of potential. We have a lot of playmakers at running back, receiver and tight end. We just have to keep executing, and the sky's the limit for us really."



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