"Dennis is just a great tight end," said wide receiver Austin Collie. "He's going to always be open."
Well, at least Collie hopes that is the thinking of Husky coaches when the Cougars face Washington this weekend. A little more attention Pitta's way might bode well for the junior wide receiver. Still, the mechanics behind Pitta's on-field success aren't quite that simple.
"Northern Iowa did a great job of playing their style of defense," Collie said. "However, we saw what they were doing and the vulnerabilities and took advantage of it."
"What we found is if we went by a two-by-two tight end set, they couldn't double [Pitta]," said Max Hall. "Anytime we had a two-back set and two wide receivers to one side, they had a chance to double him or Austin, basically either one. So by us going two-by-two, it kind of opened it up a little bit and made them play a cover two and he was able to get open on some corner routes and some seam routes. What it came down to was Dennis recognizing the coverage and taking advantage of the scheme within our called play. It was basically Dennis being Dennis out there, being able to get open and making plays out there, and all I did was get him the ball."
Even Pitta was a bit surprised by what he saw in the Panther secondary coverage.
"Yeah, to be honest I was a bit surprised," Pitta said. "They just kept doing the same with their schemes and corner and the routes were just there all day."
However, finding the weakness took some Cougar adjusting. At first glance - well, just for a moment - the Panthers caught the Cougars by surprise.
"Yeah, they did some things that we weren't expecting," said Hall. "They shifted all of their linebackers to the strong side of the field and brought the weak safety down. Because they brought the weak safety down I was making certain checks but wasn't seeing the shift as much as I should have. There were some checks that I should have made different."
From there the Cougars made the adjustments, put in a counter scheme and passed away.
"We ran some plays that took the defensive backs eyes off of Dennis," said Collie. "Then Dennis ran great routes and was able to take advantage of how the defense reacted. They ran a standard cover two and we took advantage of it. Dennis is a stud and he did what he needed to do and took advantage of what the defense gave him."
With the Panther defense forced to have their linebackers have an emphasis on Unga and their safeties key on Collie, Hall found Pitta virtually unchallenged.
"It's nice because Dennis is a smart guy," Hall said. "He's just a natural football player and knows how to get open within a defensive coverage or formation. He's also a big physical dude and is able to do things after he catches the ball."
Although the Cougars were able to make great reads and found a chink the Panthers' defensive armor, it wasn't perfect; the Cougars could have done a better job at helping to take advantage of the scheme in terms of the running game.
"A lot of the reason why we didn't have as much of a successful running game wasn't because it was Harvey's fault," admitted Hall. "A lot of it was us not seeing it and scheming it right. Those are things you learn from. Harvey's an athlete and can make plays, but I have to make sure I'm getting him in the right run play. Eventually we were able to cue in on that and found the right offensive formations to get into to put them in certain coverages. That's when we were able to really hurt them."
"They were kind of keying in on Austin, Mike [Reed] and Harvey by the defensive schemes they were running," said Pitta. "We have a lot of weapons on offense and if they're going to key in on one guy, we'll take advantage of it with another. It just happened to be my day and they didn't feel the need to cover me too much. I think one thing we took away from this game was not only a focus on ball security, but also learning and becoming more effective in running the ball as well. I don't think we ran the ball as effectively as we wanted to last Saturday. Those are two things we're focusing on this week in preparation for a good Washington football team."
With the schemes and overall philosophy of opposing teams varying week to week, the Cougars must continue to make adjustments and take what the defense gives them.
"I think Dennis definitely opened up some eyes," said Hall with a slight laugh in his voice. "I think teams are going to have to scheme for number 32. You know, it won't matter much though because we have number nine, number three, number 45 and we've also now got number one back this week too. With Fui [Vakapuna] back, that will definitely help us out in the run game, so teams may try and scheme for one or the other but we've got a lot of weapons on this team. I just have to stay inside the offense and not get outside of what's going on. We have so many weapons, I have to just be sure to utilize them and not think outside the box."
"You know I would love to have a repeat performance or a day like that every week," said Pitta with a slight laugh. "You have to kind of expect things to change from week to week and expect a double team and for things to be switched up to accommodate for all the weapons we have on offense. We don't know what we'll get, but whatever it is we'll take advantage of it."