In the mid-'60s, when the present Panthers were cubs, the Pitt football team was so awful -- weak in and weak out -- that a man in the equipment room could cap his frustration no longer.
In black and gold letters several inches high, he painted "GOAL LINE" on four large sideline yard markers.Then he added a huge arrow to each sign planted them on the field -- to make absolutely certain the offense really did know which way it was supposed to go.
To Maryland's dismay today, there no longer are such problems here. Pitt knows exactly where it is headed these days -- into the end zone enough times to possibly win its second national championship in five years. It scored as many points in the first half today (21) as it did in any game in 1967. In four games this season, Pitt has scored one more point that it did in all 10 games in 1966.
The dizzy Terrapins are not quite sure whether the Panther offense is extraordinary or their pass defense couldn't guard a polar bear with the gout, let alone swift and sure-handed Panthers. Whatever, sophomore Dan Marino and several Sepctacular Bids connected for 282 yards and three touchdowns during the 38-9 rout.
Marino had enough time to study for upcoming exams whenever he dropped back to pass and -- worse -- Terrapin defensive backs picked today to forget their mean lessons. They are supposed to whack the wideouts near the line of scrimmage, chuck them off stride and out of the carefully designed patterns.
Mostly, Marino had not only time but also an uninterrupted path to a receiver who had tippy-toed straight off the line and cut drastically toward the middle without losing either his stride or his head.
"We used a lot of formations that gave them problems in the secondary," Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill said. "Our offense was designed to force them from man to man in the secondary to zone coverages -- and it did just that." It did just that for sophomore Marino to hit freshman Dwight Collins for two long touchdown passes.
Still, there was even more frightening trouble for the Terrapins today. The Pitt offense, good as it is, must take second billing to the Pitt defense. And possibly to the kickoff team. Ain't no rotten apples in this barrel. And it seems to be close to bottomless.
With just under a minute left to play, Maryland reserve linebacker Mike Muller intercepted a screen pass and began what seemed a certain dash for a touchdown. Only the Pitt backup quarterback had a reasonable chance at a tackle and Muller had at least two large escorts.
"I saw two of my men blocking on one of theirs," Muller said. "I just didn't see that guy coming up behind."
Neither did just about everyone else. When Muller felt the tackle, he tried to dive forward -- or at least extend his arm enough so the ball would land in the end zone if his body did not. The officials said he missed by a yard. It was an inspired bit of hustle by Pitt, for the game already was out of hand.
But Pitt is extremely greedy and what followed demonstrated that to the ultimate. Maryland brought in its best runner, Charlie Wysocki, for what seemed a harmless dive for a harmless touchdown. Pitt played as though Sherrill would flail its collective hide if Maryland gained another inch.
From first-and-goal at the one, Maryland moved five yards -- backward, in the final 41 seconds, it mustered almost nothing, the game ending with a one-yard pass play four yards from where the drive originally began.
A 10-yard run by Wysocki near the end of the third quarter was special for two reasons. The first is that it was twice as long as Maryland's second longest run of the day. Let Wysocki tell you about an equally significant reason.
"It was the first time we put (all-America Hugh) Green on the ground all day."
Green is supposed to be the best defensive player is undergraduate America.
He was wonderful, as usual, today. But there is some doubt whether he was the best Pitt defensive end. The other crusher, Ricky Jackson, hits just as hard. He can list Terrapin quarterback Mike Tice as a reference.
Pitt plays classy and acts classy, most of the Terrapins agreed. Not at all like the tongue-wagging Tar Heels a week ago. They would tackle and then cackle. The Panthers were silent killers. Except for Green now and then.
"He would help me up," Wysocki said, "and say: 'Sooner or later you guys are gonna get me down."
As usual, it was later.
The special teams become special for Pitt whenever Dave Trout allows them to. He is the 5-foot-6 son of missionaries to South America who almost always sends his kickoffs either into the end zone or out of it. That two of them in Pitt's 36-2 victory over Temple last week returned was cause for concern.
The reason, Trout explained, was that the others on the kickoff team asked him to kick relatively short. Life was getting boring. And besides, how were they going to get those gold stars Sherrill awards for especially hard licks if there was nobody to tackle?
Again today, Trout sailed most of his kickoffs just this side of the Ohio border. In the fourth quarter, though, with Pitt ahead by 22 points, Trout smacked a kickoff into a decent wind that Jan Carinci could return. Carinci wanted to run to about the 20-yard line, turn and pass laterally to a teammate. wIt was a trick play Maryland hoped would catch the Panthers being too aggessive, converging on Carinci and allowing a teammate free for a long lateral and even longer gain.
What happened was that the Panthers converged on Carinci not near the 20 but near the goal line. They also are blessed with the latest football cliche: quick feet. So flustered was Carinci at the breed of cat suddenly boring in on him that he let the football loose in a sort of pass-fumble that bounced backward into the end zone and became the second Pitt touchdown in eight seconds.
Trout's next kickoff was semi-returnable. But Sammy Johnson almost tackled Lloyd Burruss after he caught the ball and started to take it out of the end zone. On this day, even returning kickoffs could be hazardous to a Terrapins' health.