Key Match-ups for Navy-Pittsburgh

As John Feinstein is prone to point out on the radio broadcast, college football is best played on Saturdays. But with the influx of big money and big media, weeknight games have become commonplace. This week the Midshipmen will make their Wednesday debut as they travel to confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers to take on the University of Pittsburgh.

Navy Coaching vs. Pittsburgh Coaching

Coach Johnson gave his players a few days off, not only as a reward for beating Air Force, but also to set up his practice week. With treating Wednesday as a Monday, the week unfolds as usual with the exception of an extra day over the weekend. The Navy staff will treat Saturday as an extra Thursday.

Dave Wannstedt took over at his alma matter in 2005 with much hoopla. The team was coming off a Big East Championship and a birth in a BCS Bowl. Walt Harris was summarily dismissed after leading the program to its best three season run (25 wins) since the end of the Jackie Sherrill era (33 wins). In comes Wannstedt, with an NFL pedigree, but the results have not been the same. Pitt has gone 13-15 thus far the past three seasons and has not been to a bowl game during the Wannstedt era. Speaking of failed NFL coaches, Wannstedt brought in failed Baltimore Raven offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh to fill the same position at Pitt. Cavanaugh, another Pitt alum, was also a candidate to replace Harris.

Navy Offense vs. Pittsburgh Defense

The offense is starting to click under Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. Kaipo followed up a solid Duke game with a stellar game against Air Force. He finished with 15 carries for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing and was 4 of 7 passing for 79 yards. This earned Kaipo the Colorado Springs Quarterback Club's Ben Martin Award given to the MVP of the Navy-Air Force game. Jarod Bryant did not play against Air Force, but has proven he can lead the offense.

Eric Kettani has wrestled the starting fullback spot away from Adam Ballard. Kettani finished the Air Force game with 17 carries for 58 yards. The 17 carries were a career high. Ballard continues to share time and finished the Air Force game with 11 carries for 38 yards. With Shun White out the other slot backs stepped up with Reggie Campbell finishing with 5 carries for 41 yards and a touchdown and Zerbin Singleton finishing with 7 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown. Hopefully, Shun will be available for the Pitt game.

OJ Washington caught all four of the passes completed by the Midshipmen against Air Force. The offensive line is finding a balance between pass protection and run blocking. Navy is currently ranked second in the country in rushing.

Defensive ends Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop have starter all 5 games this season for the Pitt defense. Clermond was All-Big East last season. He leads the team with 3 sacks. Rashaad Duncan and John Malecki have been splitting time at nose tackle with Malecki starting Pitt's most recent game against Virginia. The Panthers have used three starting defensive tackles this season with Tommie Duhart starting the last two.

Scott McKillop leads the Big East in tackles and is currently 14th in the country. McKillop has 30 more tackles then any other Pitt defender. Scott is the younger brother of starting defensive end Chris McKillop. Weak side linebacker Shane Murray and strong side linebacker Adam Gunn have started every game this season.

Senior Kennard Cox has mad 17 consecutive starts at corner. The other corner spot is being manned by either Ricky Gary or Aaron Berry, with Berry starting the last two games. Strong safety Mike Phillips is the team's second leading tackler. Free safety Eric Thatcher has started every game this season and recorded an interception against Grambling.

Pittsburgh Offense vs. Navy Defense

With starting quarterback Bill Stull injuring his hand in the opener, Pitt has turned the offense over to highly recruited freshman Pat Bostick. Bostick left fall camp for a short period for personal reasons. Thus far this season, he has completed on 61.6% of his passes for 411 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. He will be making his second career start against Navy.

The youth movement continues at running back with freshman LeSean McCoy taking over the starting duties. McCoy has 503 yards on 84 carries. This ranks 36th nationally. McCoy finished the Michigan State game with 25 carries for 172 yards. LaRod Stephens-Howling began the season at the starter. He currently has 127 yards on 35 carries. When Pitt uses a fullback, they generally turn to junior Conredge Collins.

Pitt lost Biletnikoff candidate Derek Kinder to a torn ACL during fall practice. Oderick Turner has taken over as the team's deep threat. Turner has caught 13 passes for 229 yards and three of Pitt's four receiving touchdowns. Marcel Pestano and Cedric McGee are the other two Pitt receivers with starts this season. Tight end Darrell Strong leads the team with 14 receptions. Sophomores Nate Byham and John Pelusi also have starts at tight end this season. Byham has started all 5 games thus far.

The offensive line has been a breading ground for injuries this season for the Panthers. Sophomore tackle Jason Pinkston had season ending shoulder surgery. Mike McGlynn now starts at right tackle after starting two games at guard. Chris Vangas, C.J. Davis and Jeff Otah have started every game at center, left guard and left tackle respectively.

The Navy defensive line has seemingly stabilized with starters Chris Kuhar-Pitters, Nate Frazier and Michael Walsh and a quality rotation of Jordan Stephens, Andy Lark and Kyle Bookhout.

Linebacker is where Coach Green is making waves. If you have read my previous articles, you would know I have been pretty harsh with my criticisms of the outside linebacker play. Let me take this time to make clear I was not including the play of Matt Wimsatt. Wimsatt has been a shining star of the Navy defense. He leads the team in tackles. The problems have been on the other side. But now Coach Green has decided to move sophomore Ram Vela to the other outside linebacker spot. Vela started the season at corner and is playing a hybrid linebacker/defensive back position, but has all of the responsibilities of an outside linebacker in the Navy 3-4. His play over the last two weeks have been a major factor in the Midshipmen's defensive improvement. Tony Haberer had a career game against Air Force with 9 tackles, including a huge sack and a big tackle behind the line of scrimmage on 4th down. Irv Spencer continues to be a rock in the middle.

The secondary got a minor shakeup with Blake Carter starting at corner. Rashawn King continues to hold down the other corner spot and freshmen Wyatt Middleton continues to impress at free safety. Even though his interception streak was broken, Ketric Buffin is still the core of the Navy secondary.

Navy Special Teams vs. Pittsburgh Special Teams

Joey Bullen was one of three on field goals against Air Force. Coach Johnson has opened the window to using both kickers in some capacity. Possibly using Matt Harmon for kickoffs or long field goals.

Returns are OK but not spectacular. We are all still waiting for Reggie Campbell to break a long one.

Unfortunately Greg Veteto had some work against Air Force, but fortunately he responded. Veteto averaged 42.3 yards on his three punts.

Conor Lee is one of the best kickers in the Big East. Lee is 6 of 7 on field goals this season. His 30 points are good enough for second best in the conference. Lee is also riding a streak of 59 consecutive extra points.

Lowell Robinson and T.J. Porter are underrated returners. Porter is averaging 18.8 yards per return while Robinson has a 25.6-yard return average.

Punting duties are handled by Dave Brytus. Brytus transferred for Purdue and is in his first season playing for the Panthers. He is currently averaging 41.6 yards per punt.


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