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Making the Call

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When the issue of penalties came up at Dave Wannstedt’s weekly news conference, the Pitt coach cringed as if someone had kicked him in his Achilles’ tendon.

“The whole officiating thing, it does no good to comment on it,” Wannstedt said. “We evaluate it, we give our opinion and we turn it in to the (Big East Conference) and then we get a response back later on in the week, probably tomorrow or Thursday at the latest.”

Pitt was called for nine penalties for 78 yards against South Florida Saturday, drawing holding penalties on three consecutive plays at one point. It was the second straight week officiating became an issue for the Panthers.

Wannstedt spoke with Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese last week about the conference’s officiating crews, after Oderick Turner’s touchdown catch was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty in the final seconds of the 20-16 loss at Rutgers.

I think anytime you have those judgment calls, that’s what they are,” Wannstedt said. “Everybody has an opinion. If the ball is on the ground or not, that’s pretty clear. But on holding calls and pass interference calls, that’s one person’s opinion opposed to another. You can’t win those battles. You just hope that they don’t happen very often and you hope that they don’t cost you a game. That’s the difference. They’re going to happen. You just hope it’s not a difference in winning and losing the game.”

Tranghese was on the Big East conference call Monday, and I asked him if the league addressed the pass interference penalty against Rutgers.

“I’ll answer it this way: I talked to Dave,” Tranghese said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Wannstedt declined to publicly air the context of that conversation, but it is believed that Tranghese offered an apology to Wannstedt and/or Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg for what was clearly a blown call.

Tranghese, however, defended the Big East when asked if officiating was something the league would address.

“I think all six leagues are going to review their officiating,” Tranghese said. “We’ve done a lot of research on this. People act in isolation that we’re the only conference that had a call or calls that have been questionable or, if in your opinion, they’re not right.

“To even hint that we’re the only league that has this issue is highly mistaken. I think if you went to my colleagues in the other five BCS conferences, they’ve all been confronted with the same thing. Our goal every year is to continue to evaluate our officials, to recruit the best officials that we can and to work like heck on it. Our goal is to be perfect, and it’s probably an unrealistic goal but that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Not that anyone asked him about the other BCS conferences or even suggested the Big East was the only one with officiating problems.

Then Tranghese suggested a correlation between the numbers of close games and disputed calls.

“What’s happened this year is our league has become so darn competitive that so many games are coming down to the last minute and the last play,” Tranghese said. “It puts more and more pressure. I think the toughest call in officiating is still pass interference. I have people who look at pass interference calls with me on instant replay and they still can’t agree.

“I watch the NFL, and they supposedly have the best officials in America, in the world, and there were two pass interference calls in the Indianapolis-Patriots game that were far from being correct. I don’t think this problem is just ours; it’s everybody’s. Are we going to address it? We do every year and we’re going to continue to do it.”

* Wannstedt said tight end Nate Byham will have knee surgery this week, and is out for the season. Darrell Strong and John Pelusi are listed as co-starters on the depth chart, but Pelusi has been out with an injury, as well.

“(Strong) gives us a chance to make some big plays,” Wannstedt said. “He’s a little bit different player than Nate, but we’ll be OK.”

Byham was hardly being used as a receiving threat, with only 15 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown, but spent most of his time on the field as an extra blocker.

Considering that Strong doesn’t do much blocking, that leaves walk-on Dustin Walters as the only other tight end in those situations. Wannstedt, however, said the Panthers could expand the role of fullback Conredge Collins.

“Conredge Collins is probably a better player than we’ve given him opportunities to this year,” Wannstedt said. “It’s just been tough to get him the football, running or passing. We have a few different options there.”

* The only other change to the starting lineup is that Joe Thomas is penciled in as a the starting right guard. John Bachman started against USF.

* Wannstedt also commented on LeSean McCoy breaking Tony Dorsett’s record for rushing touchdowns by a freshman, with three against South Florida:

“Someone brought it to my attention on the sidelines because, at that point in the game, I had kind of lost track of it. I think you’re always looking for positives that you’re building on and when you can come up with a positive that’s a freshman, it’s real exciting,” Wannstedt said. “The expectations of him coming in were obviously that he would contribute early and make a difference and make an impact and I think he has exceeded that. He has not reached, by any means, his full potential. He has a lot of room to improve and now that he’s been in the system and he goes through an off-season and a spring practice, he’s going to be an exciting player here in the future.”

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