QB Rod Rutherford

2002 Statistics

Coach: Walter Harris
36-35, 6 years
2002 Record: 9-4
OHIO WON 27-14
at UAB WON 26-20
at Syracuse WON 48-24
at Notre Dame LOST 6-14
at Virginia Tech WON 28-21
at Miami FL LOST 21-28
Oregon State WON 38-13

2002 Final Rankings
AP-19, Coaches-18, BCS-UR

2003 Outlook

Having won 15 of their past 19 games, Pittsburgh is expecting to pick up where they left off for big things in 2003. Coach Harris has said their modest goals are to have double-digit wins and contend for the Big East title. With players like Morris, Moore, Rutherford, Harriott, Miree and Fitzgerald the Panthers will have success. In Harriott and Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh has two of the best in the nation. But we do not expect 2003 to be the season Pitt breaks through. There are too many questions in terms of defensive leadership and offensive line play.

In 2002, the Pittsburgh offense averaged 26 points and nearly 360 yards per game. This scoring average dropped to 14 points per game in the Panthers' four losses (by a combined 24 points). With the problems at OL, we do not see the Panthers significantly improving on these numbers. Expect marginal offensive production to hurt them in the close games.

Look for the Panthers to begin strong with a favorable schedule and quickly close in on a Top 10 ranking. That is, before their revenge game on the road with Texas A&M. The revamped Aggie passing game will test the Panther's new schemes in the secondary. Pitt may fall here, but then they should upset Notre Dame this time. And expect two losses in Big East play, probably to Miami and Virginia Tech (both to be national title contenders). Pitt always wins one they shouldn't, but loses one they shouldn't, too. Unlike previous seasons, teams will this time see the 2003 Panthers coming, only adding to their needed chores for success.

By season's end, the way to beat Pittsburgh will be to confuse Rutherford with varying blitzing front sevens. You have to confuse to prevent the big play to Fitzgerald - Rutheford has proven James Bond martini-esque, easily shaken at times. And offensively, just attack the middle of the field with multiple underneath routes (for example) to confuse the inexperienced LBs and take advantage of deep, scattered safeties.

Walt Harris has brought Pittsburgh back slowly (what seemed like forever to core fans) into the national spotlight. The new Heinz Field facilities and recent successes will help to get the entire football-crazed city behind their boys. A fourth consecutive bowl season and double-digit wins will keep this momentum rolling. While he is on the right path, we still believe Harris is still a few years away from putting this program in a BCS game (has to likely beat Miami to do this) and thus restoring Pittsburgh among the names of the national elite. But Pitt is back as a feared opponent that can defeat any program in the nation, a good first step.

Projected 2003 record: 10-2
WR Larry Fitzgerald
RB Brandon Miree
DE Claude Harriott
LB Azzie Beagnyam
QB - 4 DL - 4
RB - 4 LB - 3.5
WR - 4.5 DB - 4
OL - 4 ..

Passing: Rod Rutherford, 367-192-12, 2783 yds., 22 TD's

Rushing: Brandon Miree, 214 att., 943 yds., 4 TD's

Receiving: Larry Fitzgerald, 69 rec., 1005 yds., 12 TD's

Scoring: Larry Fitzgerald, 12 TD's, 72 pts.

Punting: Andy Lee, 73 punts, 43.1 avg.

Kicking: David Abdul, 13-20 FG, 28-29 PAT, 67 pts.

Tackles: Tez Morris, 119 tot., 71 solo

Sacks: Claude Harriott, 9.5 sacks

Interceptions: Shawntae Spencer, 3 for 49 yds.

Kickoff returns: Shawntae Spencer, 4 ret., 23.8 avg.

Punt returns: Billy Gaines, 27 ret., 4.9 avg.


WR Larry Fitzgerald
OFFENSE: Lamar Slade-WR, Chad Reed-C, Bryan Anderson-OG, Roosevelt Bynes-WR
DEFENSE: Brian Guzek-DE, Gerald Hayes-MLB, Brian Beinecke-WLB, Shawn Robinson-CB, Torrie Cox-CB

written by Dave Bagchi

The offensive strength for Pittsburgh will be at its returning skill positions. Senior QB Rod Rutherford is now the team's unquestioned leader. Despite fan criticism, a slow start, and some shaky decision-making, Rutherford ended 2002 with over 3,000 yards total offense and 28 TDs running and passing, earning him second-team All-Big East honors (runner-up to Heisman candidate Ken Dorsey). He does need to learn to throw the ball away or make the short throw to take pressure off himself and his offensive line. Nearly three-fourths of his completions went to his wide receivers, contributing to his low completion percentage. Rutherford is tough to bring down and has a lively arm, skills which make him primed for a breakout season under Harris' tutelage.

Look for Rutherford to go to sophomore All-American WR Larry Fitzgerald early and often. Fitzgerald will be one of the premiere receivers in America. He is coming off his stellar 1,005 yard and 12 TD true-freshman campaign. The Panthers are also excited about 6'3 JC-transfer WR Princell Brockenbrough (coming off knee surgery). He is the top-rated JC receiver in I-A for 2003.

"Very seldom do you see physical players at receiver, but he has laid some guys out here in practice," Walt Harris said. Brockenbrough, along with TE Kris Wilson, will be called upon to lighten the load on Fitzgerald and soften the loss of both Roosevelt Bynes (transfer to FAU) and senior Lamar Slade (to graduation). That will be the least they do.

Rounding out the Pittsburgh backfield is the hard-nosed duo of 235 lb. senior TB Brandon Miree and 240 lb. senior FB Lousaka Polite. Miree emerged late last year, having four 100+ yard performances in the last five games. He is a north and south runner who bowls over tacklers. Polite will carry the ball occasionally, known more for his blocking. Junior backup TB Raymond Kirkley provides a speed option and needed depth. This backfield should improve on its 64th rank enough to force LBs to look for the run first. Even at 3.4 yards-per-carry, Miree and Polite ground defenses down by the second half, which should help the line's confidence with wins in place of superior rushing numbers.

As Pittsburgh continues to evolve its offensive scheme, the offensive line will be most challenged. In 2002, this unit allowed 46 sacks, near the bottom of the Big East. A Walt Harris offense relies upon the flexibility of its offensive line. But no projected starter is under 290 pounds, which makes improved foot-work (and therefore draws, screens, pulling-schemes, etc.) an uphill battle. Last year, Pittsburgh had a near 40/60 pass to run ratio. Although this number is skewed by sack totals, Harris would like to be much closer to 50/50. Pittsburgh was forced into running various spread and shotgun formations, partly to relieve the constant pressure applied on Rutherford. Considering the returning talent in the backfield, the Panthers would like to stick to the I-formation for the majority of their plays. Easier said than done.

The loss of senior C Chad Reed and All-Big East G Bryan Anderson presents an even greater challenge. However, their replacements, Justin Belarski and Jon Schall, combined with returning starters Rob Petitti, Dan LaCarte and Matt Morgan, form an all upperclassmen starting front line. Offensive line coach Tom Freeman will have to get this unit to gel and improve quickly. The line has talent, but will need teamwork to achieve what they individually cannot.


P Andy Lee


Returning Starters in bold
QB Rod Rutherford-Sr (6-3, 220) Tyler Palko-So (6-2, 210)
FB Lousaka Polite-Sr (6-0, 240) Tim Murphy-So (5-10, 190)
TB Brandon Miree-Sr (6-2, 235) Raymond Kirkley-Jr (5-10, 215)
WR Chris Curd-Sr (6-3, 230) Princell Brockenbrough-Jr (6-3, 200)
WR Larry Fitzgerald-So (6-3, 210) Billy Gaines-So (5-7, 170)
TE Kris Wilson-Sr (6-3, 240) Erik Gill-So (6-5, 255)
OT Rob Petitti-Jr (6-6, 330) Jason Capizzi-Fr (6-9, 300)
OG Dan LaCarte-Sr (6-4, 295) Penny Semaia-Sr (6-5, 330)
C Justin Belarski-Jr (6-3, 290) Rob Frederick-Jr (6-3, 295)
OG Jon Schall-Sr (6-4, 295) John Simonitis-Fr (6-3, 290)
OT Matt Morgan-Sr (6-7, 295) Dale Williams-So (6-5, 285)
K David Abdul-So (5-10, 175) J.B. Gibbony-Jr (5-9, 175)



written by Dave Bagchi

Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads has built one of the best defenses in all Division I-A. Defense has been the core of this team the past three seasons, setting the scene for an encore performance. The returning strengths will be the defensive line and safeties.

All-Big East DE Claude Harriott's 9.5 sacks and 21 tackles-for-loss anchor a group that caused 30 sacks and 33 TOs. Harriott's multi-dimensional abilities prove hard to keep controlled. He uses his 6'4 frame and speed to excel against the pass. Expectations are high that Harriott will have an All-American senior season and take over as the defensive leader. Harriott is joined along the front by Vince Crochunis, Dan Stephens and a talented quartet of underclassmen that will provide this unit with speed, power and depth.

At safety, the Panthers have lofty expectations for their young duo of Tyrone Gilliard and Tez Morris. Last year, with senior leader Torrie Cox in the defensive backfield, the Panthers brought their safeties up to play the run (Gilliard and Morris combined for 168 tackles) and had trusted corners in man-coverage. With Cox gone, look for Paul Rhoads to deploy a more conservative approach by moving to 7 in the box and cover-2 schemes, protecting his inexperienced CBs. How Gilliard and Morris respond to playing the pass will be key to the Panthers' success. They are both undersized players who use their speed to get into position, so this transition should work on paper, but…

The talent is abundant, but Pittsburgh will lack experience at linebacker and defensive back . They will severely miss the leadership of the aforementioned Torrie Cox and their all-everything MLB Gerald Hayes. Expect the Panthers to remain in the 4-3 defensive alignment, which calls for big play from said MLB. Back is senior Lewis Moore, who will be expected to replace Hayes as he moves to the middle. Moore is as big as Hayes but not quite as fast, so... Coaches believe Moore is capable, as proven by being third on the team in 2002 tackles. Flanking Moore will be newcomers Mike Jemison and Malcolm Postell. Postell is undersized and could be challenged by speedy sophomore, Brian Bennett.

In the secondary, the Panthers can replace one corner with senior Shawntae Spencer. Either small and speedy William Ferguson, or 6'2 Corey Humphries will man the other spot. Considering Pittsburgh will probably move to the cover-2 scheme, expect Humphries to win the spot and play a physical cover. Inexperience and leadership is the challenge to overcome in the secondary, as Cox was the emotional leader of this team the past two seasons. Pittsburgh will protect their corners until they gel, at least for the first part of the season. In the Big East, any limitations will be exploited by top-class air attacks.


DE Claude Harriott


Returning Starters in bold
DE Claude Harriott-Sr (6-4, 270) Malcolm Pinder-Sr (6-1, 230)
DT Vince Crochunis-Jr (6-4, 285) Jake Holthaus-Jr (6-1, 280)
DT Dan Stephens-Jr (6-2, 285) Troy Banner-So (6-3, 295)
DE Andy Alleman-So (6-4, 235) Thomas Smith-So (6-4, 265)
SLB Malcolm Postell-Jr (6-1, 220) Brian Bennett-Fr (6-0, 215)
MLB Lewis Moore-Sr (6-2, 245) Joe Dipre-So (6-4, 245)
WLB Azzie Beagnyam-Fr (6-1, 230) Charles Sattet-Fr (6-0, 210)
CB Shawntae Spencer-Sr (6-2, 175) Marcus Furman-Jr (5-8, 185)
CB William Ferguson-Sr (5-10, 185) Bernard Lay-So (6-2, 195)
SS Tyrone Gilliard-Jr (5-11, 190) Sam Bryant-Sr (6-0, 205)
FS Tez Morris-So (5-10, 185) Corey Humphries-Sr (6-2, 205)
P Andy Lee-Sr (6-2, 205) ..




Playing in a conference with squads strong on special teams (Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Miami), this area is crucial. The strength of this unit next year will be the kicking game, revolving around All-Big East punter Andy Lee (43 yds/punt) and strong-legged sophomore kicker David Abdul (who replaced J.B. Gibboney early on and made 13-20 kicks, including four over 40 yards). Lee was key in last year's Insight.com Bowl victory with two punts downed inside the five-yard line. Pitt let opponents dance to the tune of over 10 yards-per-return on coverage. So with an inexperienced defense, the Panthers will call on Lee to win the game of field position. Another strength in the special teams will be the kick-returning abilities of Shawntae Spencer and Marcus Furman (28 yards-per-return). Spencer and Furman will most likely be called upon to return punts, too, seeing how Billy Gaines averaged less than five yards per return. His destiny is still up in the air.


Note: WR Billy Gaines died accidentally after falling through the roof of a church. He suffered spinal cord injuries and a fractured skull. Our sympathies go out to the Gaines family and friends as well as the entire Pittsburgh Panther community.


Backup QB Tyler Palko displayed some nimble feet in the spring game, carrying ten times for 74 yards. He struggled at times through the air, tossing two picks. Intensely dueling him for #2 is redshirt freshman Luke Getsy… WR Chris Curd made the biggest improvement this spring. A converted FS, Curd should be the Panthers' third receiver this fall… There is a battle occurring at center, as three different players took snaps with the first team.

The Panthers are seeking depth along the front seven, especially at LB. Panther fans might get their first taste of top recruit Chris McKillop early in the fall. He is a versatile athlete who can play both LB and DE… DE Malcolm Pinder made worthy progress this spring and should push for playing time as a top reserve. DE Claude Harriott suffered a knee injury this spring, but hopes are that he will be fine by August… The LB spots are still up for grabs going into fall, but a little clarification was achieved this spring. Azzie Beagnyam lit up the offense (in the spring game), accounting for tackles all over the field. Lewis Moore's move to MLB this spring has worked well… Free safeties Corey Humphries and Tez Morris were busy men during the final scrimmage, perhaps bringing to mind questions/concerns along the front seven pass rush…CB Bernard Lay was credited as the most improved defensive player this off-season. While we're on the subject, you heard it here first- CB Shawntae Spencer could be the dark-horse winner of the Thorpe Award this season. Mark it down!