Pitt turns in frightfully good performance over Bulls

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

PITTSBURGH -- Given that it's their last year of college and they have a bye week for Halloween, roommates Bill Stull and Dorin Dickerson are planning their costumes for next week.

"We're big scary movie guys," Stull said. "We might get some Michael Myers and Jason outfits."

Simply by wearing their home football uniforms on Saturday, the Pittsburgh teammates helped scare the bejeezus out of the rest of the Big East.

The No. 20 Panthers have always been viewed as having perhaps the most talented roster in the league, but they also held themselves back with silly mistakes or sloppy execution. This week, Pitt put everything together in a 41-14 pounding of South Florida that wasn't even as close as that lopsided score indicates.

All things considered, it was the top overall performance of the Dave Wannstedt era. Pittsburgh (7-1, 4-0 Big East) is off to its best start since Dan Marino's senior year in 1982, and if it can approach this week's performance, it might well finish as the Big East champion.

The Panthers only have three more league games left, and the next one is Syracuse at home after the bye. They close the season at West Virginia, whom they've beaten two years in a row, and at home against Cincinnati Dec. 5 in what is shaping up as a possible de facto league title game.

"Up to this point, it's probably all talk (about) are you a contender or a pretender," Wannstedt said. "I think our guys now should get a taste that we should be a contender."

Put this win in context of the calendar, because October is the time of year when South Florida always wilts. Still, the Bulls have rarely gotten steamrolled quite like this.

Pitt never punted, led 31-7 at halftime and rested all of its starters in the fourth quarter after building a 41-7 cushion. The defense, which had allowed too many passing yards and hadn't created enough turnovers most of the season, bullied the Bulls into three interceptions and just 212 total yards. South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels had as many picks (2) and sacks (2) as he did completions while going just 4-of-8 for 54 yards.

The other side of the ball proved even more impressive. The ballyhooed South Florida defensive line never got any leverage against the Panthers' offensive front. Stull had enough time to finish a Primanti Bros. sandwich before he threw and was never sacked. Did he even get hit?

"I got a little push one time," said Stull, who completed his first 11 passes and threw for 245 yards and two scores in the comfy pocket.

Pitt kept tight end Nate Byham in to block and left fullback Henry Hynoski in on third down for the first time all season to neutralize defensive ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul. Tackles Jason Pinkston and Lucas Nix did the rest.

"(Offensive line coach Tony) Wise put the challenge on me and Lucas, just to get our hands on them right away," Pinkston said. "We let Bill get hit a couple of times at Rutgers last week, so we took it on ourselves this week."

The lack of pressure opened all sorts of options. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti wisely force fed 6-foot-5 receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who had six catches for a career-best 144 yards. Freshman tailback Dion Lewis piled up 111 yards and two touchdowns while going over 1,000 yards for the season, and fellow freshman Ray Graham added 88 yards on the ground.

Apologies to Cincinnati and West Virginia, but Pittsburgh might have the most varied offensive weapons in the Big East.

"Shady (McCoy) was a great player, but he was our offense last year," Dickerson said. "That's what's difference about this team -- we've got a lot more playmakers."

"We've never had this type of balance," Wannstedt said.

Wannstedt said he heard an interview with Phil Simms on the radio while driving to Heinz Field, and Simms talked about how teams make mistakes to keep themselves average. He relayed that message to his players before the game, and Pitt played about as cleanly as possible, committing only two penalties and converting 11 of 16 third downs.

It looks like a team of horror-movie fans is developing a killer instinct.

"We definitely inflicted some pain today," Stull said.