The unit is led by H.B. Blades, son of former Detroit Lions great Bennie Blades, (nephew of former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Brian Blades and Miami great Al Blades) who was all over the field in accumulating thirteen tackles in the opener, and who added 14-tackles in game two before suffering with a bout of cramps.
Linebacker Clint Sessions was named Big East 'Defensive Player Of The Week' against Virginia. He had nine tackles, two tackles for loss, harrassed quarterbacks all day, and returned an interception 78-yards for a touchdown.
The third linebacker is former sprint champion Tommie Campbell who brings blazing 4.4 speed to a formerly slow second tier unit. His play sideline to sideline has Pitt fans excited. Campbell had seven tackles in the opener and eight in game two. In fact, the three leading tacklers in the opener were the linebackers. Blades and Session have NFL ability.
The defensive line rotated in nine different players against UVA, and with the linebackers, absolutely stuffed the Cavalier running game, and held them to 52-yards rushing, just a 2.5 yard average. In fact, the whole defense as a unit gave up just 211-yards in total offense.
This was in part due to their effectiveness on third down, holding UVA to a 21-percent conversion rate on 3 of 14 attempts. They followed that effort by giving the Bearcats only 256-yard of total offense, again, stuffing the run, and holding them to a net of 35-yards on the ground.
The defensive line is led by defensive ends Doug Fulmer and Joe Clermond, who bring speed and harrass quarterbacks from the edge. Fulmer had two tackles for loss, and a sack against the Bearcats. Linemates Gus Matakas, and Chris McKillop, are among the many other defensive linemen they rotate in.
McKillop had a sack and a tackle for loss in the opener and followed that effort with 7-tackles against the Bearcats. As a group they dominated the Cavaliers and Bearcats, and will be looking to do the same against MSU if the Spartans aren't careful, and physical. We expect this defensive line to really test the Spartans offensive line.
In the secondary, cornerback Darrelle Revis will be one guy to avoid. He plays lock-down corner and causes a lot of havoc against opponents, and even his own teammates in practice. He had a 19-yard interception return for a touchdown against UVA, and blanketed receivers all day. He added a 57-yard touchdown interception return against Cincy. He is not the type of guy to pick on. The rest of the secondary is solid with Kennard Cox at a corner.
Cox came up with a big interception to get the Panthers started in game two. Sam Bryant is a solid safety, and Eric Thatcher started at free safety, but wil be replaced by Mike Phillips as the starter this week. As a group in 2005, they only allowed 152.8 passing yards per game. Cincy did have some success (221-yards), but most was late in the game.
No doubt, this will be a tough defense to run or pass against. They press the corners, have great run support from the safeties, the defensive ends get upfield pressure, and they play the typical "Dallas Cowboy" defense Wannstedt became famous for.
Punt returner Darelle Revis led the Big East last year with a 11.6 yard per return average, Revis fumbled two punts against the Bearcats however. If running back LaRod Stephen is healthy, he will return kickoffs. Adam Graessle punted five times for a 43.4 yard average in the opener, and averaged 43.0 yards versus the Bearcats.
The interesting situation is in regards to placekicking duties. They lost their returning kicker David Abdul to heart surgery, and two untested kickers, walk-on Dan Conner, and freshmen Dan Hutchins, have battled with inconsistency in fall camp. Conner won the job and kicked a 38-yard field goal and added five points after touchdowns against UVA. I'm sure Wannstedt still has to be a little nervous about these guys.
Special Teams for both teams could play an important part in this game as they usually decide games early in the year as offenses and defenses adjust.
IMPROVING TEAM SPEED, PRIORITY ONE FOR PITT
On thing that has been noticeable to Pitt fans, coaches, and media is how much faster this entire team is this year as opposed to a year ago. At the end of last season, he was asked what could be done to improve the program faster. He mentioned two words, "run faster." In fact, Wannstedt believes he has improved speed at literally every position on the football field. Certainly a major key in turning any college football program around.
In fact, Wannstedt added a speed component to his winter conditioning program, and had his players get up at 5:30am during the winter to experience running stairs, hills, jogging trails, and other tough venues during the cold winter. A couple other factors have helped the insurgency of speed, as Wannstedt has made position changes, and has recruited faster players.
He moved defensive tackle Gus Mustakas to defensive tackle to allow speedy defensive end Joe Clermond to enter the lineup. He also put Clint Session into the lineup at linebacker, and added Tommie Campbell and his 4.4 speed at another linebacker position. Last year some of the linebackers were said to be in the 5.0 range in the forty-yard dash, which is painfully slow for a major college program.
Regardless, MSU should expect a bigger, quicker, and especially faster, Pitt team.