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Defense Canned The Candidates
Jack McCallum
September 20, 1982
Heisman hopefuls Danny Marino and Kelvin Bryant didn't impress any voters in Pitt's 7-6 victory over North Carolina
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September 20, 1982

Defense Canned The Candidates

Heisman hopefuls Danny Marino and Kelvin Bryant didn't impress any voters in Pitt's 7-6 victory over North Carolina

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Serafino Dante Fazio, called Foge, spent the day after his first victory as a head coach the way new coaches usually spend them, particularly those with Fazio's outgoing manner. He glad-handed everyone in sight, read congratulatory telegrams, chatted with former players on the phone—"Hey, did you catch my act on the sidelines?" he asked ex-Panther Jo Jo Heath—and forgot to tell his secretary to pick up his wife for an appointment.

"That was a bad one," said Fazio, shaking his head.

Norma Fazio will no doubt forgive her husband's oversight because he is, after all, the first Pitt head coach to win his debut since John Michelosen in 1955. Such notables as John Majors and Jackie Sherrill, from whom Fazio took the reins this season when Sherrill went to Texas A&M, had losing debuts at Pitt. So did Carl DePasqua in 1969.

Of course, Fazio was supposed to win, and in more spectacular fashion than the desultory 7-6 triumph the Panthers achieved over North Carolina last Thursday night at Three Rivers Stadium. And he's supposed to win the next 10 games too, judging from Pitt's consensus preseason No. 1 ranking. The Panthers will probably survive as No. 1 this week—SI kept them in the top position—but their offensive performance against Carolina (197 net yards, seven illegal-procedure or offsides penalties) isn't the stuff of which national champions are made.

"I expected maybe 35-28 our way," said Fazio after the game. "I expected a high-scoring game. I wanted to give our fans a good show. Seven-six, that's Neanderthal football."

Oh, how quickly men in power are corrupted. First, Fazio comes to the game in a spiffy blue blazer and khaki slacks, disdaining the windbreaker he wore when he was a Pitt assistant. "Hey, everybody dresses up for a debut, right?" he said. "I thought I looked nice. I'm going to wear it all season." Then, the man who fashioned the best defense in college football the last two seasons says he wants to see touchdowns.

In truth, the game was supposed to be a Heisman highlight film for the national TV audience, but, in an active day of trading, the Heisman stock of both Pitt Quarterback Danny Marino (28 passes, 15 completions for a mere 125 yards, four interceptions and three sacks) and North Carolina Running Back Kelvin Bryant (58 yards rushing in 16 carries) plummeted several points on the big board. Marino at times used the forward pass like a punt, throwing it blindly into a three-deep Carolina zone. Bryant picked up 19 of his 58 yards on one carry and committed a fumble that aborted a second-quarter drive.

But defense had a lot to do with the offensive play of The Candidates, too. Pitt's defense is, quite simply, the best in the country. Nine starters have returned from the unit that last year ranked No. 1 in both total defense and rushing defense. And the Panthers' two new starters, Linebacker Charles (Yogi) Jones (12 tackles) and Cornerback Troy Hill (five tackles, recovery of Bryant's fumble), were among Thursday night's stars.

In the preseason, the North Carolina defense was even more overshadowed by Bryant's publicity than Pitt's was by Marino's. The Tar Heels, who ranked fifth nationally with a per-game yield of just 11.2 points in 1981, have seven starters back, including Linebacker Mike Wilcher, Cornerback Greg Poole and a solid front anchored by Tackle William Fuller. All played superbly against Pitt.

Maybe Coach Dick Crum and Defensive Coordinator Denny Marcin know something nobody else knows. The last time Pitt was held to just seven points was in the second game of the 1979 season at Chapel Hill, when the Tar Heels upset the Panthers 17-7.

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