Pitt has to be prepared for three options this week at quarterback. True freshman Chas Dodd has filled in the last two weeks as a starter, after starter Tom Savage went down with an injury to his throwing hand. Dodd has led the Scarlet Knights to consecutive wins, throwing for five touchdown passes and just one interception so far. Savage threw just one touchdown pass to three interceptions, in the first four games.
The Scarlet Knights also like to run the Wildcat formation, something that the defensive players are already aware of. Though Mohamed Sanu--who lines up at quarterback in the Wildcat formation--is the talk around Pitt's South Side facility this week, some of Pitt's coaches and players have commented on how much of a threat Sanu can be in the passing game.
Though he won't chuck the ball 10 or 20 times a game, Sanu has completed 3-of-5 passes this year out of the formation, for 74 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to D.C. Jefferson against Florida International.
"When we see teams run the Wildcat, we just stack the box," safety Dom DeCicco said. "(Sanu) does playaction passes, and that's the one thing we really have to key on. He's a dangerous runner, but he can also throw the ball out of that Wildcat."
In addition to the Wildcat, expect a quarterback in Dodd who likes to take chances downfield. Another thing kicked around the South Side this week, was the talk of how Rutgers threw for over 500 yards and seven touchdown passes, in a 54-34 win for the Scarlet Knights at Heinz Field two years ago. That performance still lingers around the heads of the Pitt coaches and players, and for that reason--despite the 24-17 win at Rutgers last year--they are expecting a lot of pass this week.
"They will throw the ball deep more than any team we play all year long, particularly against us," Wannstedt added.
Rutgers has a trio of backs that Pitt will have to worry about. Joe Martinek has started five of the six games, but he is backed up by freshman Jordan Thomas and senior Kordell Young. Young is more of a third-down back. He caught a three-yard touchdown last week in the win over Army, which made a difference in the outcome.
Martinek has rushed for 231 yards on 61 carries (3.8 avg) while Thomas has rushed 52 times for 158 yards (3.0 avg).
It seems like a balanced attack, but the main threat coming from Rutgers' running game is the Wildcat. Mohamed Sanu--who has raised some concern because of his willingness to pass out of the Wildcat this year--is the Scarlet Knights' leading rusher. Sanu has carried 52 times for 285 yards and four touchdowns, and even had a 91-yard touchdown run this season.
"The Wildcat is a big part of their offense," Wannstedt added. "We've pretty much seen it every week. We prepare for it every week whether we've seen it or not. Everybody has so many different versions of it. You have to be prepared for it."
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
As Wannstedt alluded to--when talking about the quarterbacks--he expects Rutgers to throw it downfield against the Panthers. Ricky Gary and Antwuan Reed will have their hands full with receivers Mark Harrison (6-3, 230), Jeremy Deering (6-2, 203), Keith Stroud (6-3, 206). D.C. Jefferson--at tight end--is athletic at 6-6, 258.
If a player is a threat as a quarterback and running back, is it possible for him to be a threat at receiver? Of course. Sanu is there again, in the receiving corps, leading the Scarlet Knights with 29 catches for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
"They might take shots (downfield)," DeCicco said. "They have taller receivers, so they're going to like to take some shots downfield against us. We have confidence in all of our corners and safeties that we're going to be able to make plays and not let happen what happened two years ago."
Rutgers' offensive line has mixed up the starting lineup a bit this year, using three different lineups in six games.
At left tackle is Desmond Stapleton (6-5, 285). Left guard is Desmond Wynn (6-6, 290). Center belongs to Howard Barbieri (6-5, 304), while the right side is manned by guard Antwan Lowery (6-4, 302) and tackle Art Forst (6-8, 311). Caleb Ruch (6-4, 290) and Devon Watkis (6-7, 310) could also start, or at least see time this week.
It's an interesting mix of quickness on the left side to protect the quarterback's blind side, and power on the right side. It's not as experienced a Rutgers line as Pitt has seen in the past, but with Barbieri (22 career starts) and Forst (27 career starts), there's enough to build around.
"They're a very good team," defensive tackle Myles Caragein said. "They run the ball effectively. They can pass the ball effectively. They're a pretty well-rounded team. It's going to be a great challenge for our defense this week. (The offensive line)is pretty much the same (lineup), but I'm pretty sure there's two new (offensive linemen)."
While the run game has been marginal at best--outside of Sanu's production out of the Wildcat, the offensive line has allowed a sack per every six passing attempts this season--the biggest ratio of sacks of any Pitt opponent this season. Despite the ratio, defensive end Jabaal Sheard knows he's going to be in for a tough game.
"It's the Big East," Sheard said. "Every game, it's like win or lose. You never know who you can lose to in the Big East. Any time, you're capable of being beat. Rutgers beat us two years ago, back-to-back. We had to turn it around.
"Hopefully, us as a d-line, we get off to a great start; get a couple sacks, get a couple tackles for losses and get the game rolling."
Rutgers' defensive line has been consistent throughout the season, as defensive ends Jonathan Freeny (6-3, 250) and Alex Silvestro (6-4, 260) and defensive tackles Charlie Noonan (6-2, 274) and Scott Vallone (6-3, 270) have started all six games. Vallone leads the team with 1.5 sacks, while Silvestro leads with 6.5 tackles for losses. It's a bit of a quieter defensive line, than what Pitt has seen in the past.
It will be a very familiar look for the Pitt offensive line because not only does Rutgers bring pressure with its front four, but the Scarlet Knights' defensive line is similar in size and athletic ability to Pitt's defensive line--the one that Pitt's offensive line goes up against in practice every day.
When drawing a comparison between these two teams, it all starts with the philosophy of the type of player that goes on the defensive line.
"They're a real big pressure team," right guard Lucas Nix said. "They've been running (their scheme) with the same guys for years. They're a little more advanced than most of the teams we've played. We've been around here. A lot of us have seen it before. It's going to be a challenge, but we're ready to get out there and get after them."
Much like Pitt, don't expect Rutgers to blitz their linebackers. Starting for the Knights are sophomores Ka'Lial Glaud (6-2, 223) and Steve Beauharnais (6-2, 230), and senior Antonio Lowery (6-2, 225)--the team's leading tackler. Lowery leads the way with 65 tackles, followed by Beauharnais, who has 40 tackles, good enough for third on the team. Glaud has four stops, and is slated to make his first career start this week.
Rutgers has only produced five sacks this season, and has allowed 123.3 yards per game on the ground. Still, running back Dion Lewis knows this unit can come up with a big play at any given time.
"Just be focused, be patient," Lewis said. "This is one of the better defenses with a lot of different schemes that we'll have to face all year. We have to be really focused on our assignments."
The strength in the Rutgers defense lies in an experienced secondary. Currently, they rank third in the Big East in pass defense (169.2 yards a game) and second in pass defense efficiency (113.0; 5 TD, 4 INT).
On top of that, of the top five tackles on the team, three are members of the secondary; safety Joe Lefeged (6-1, 205; 41 tackles, INT, 5 PBU), corner Brandon Bing (5-11, 180; 38 tackles, INT) and sophomore safety Khaseem Green (6-1, 215; 37 tackles, INT, 3 PBU). Greene is the brother of Pitt running back Ray Graham. Graham said there's no trash-talking that goes on in the week leading up to the game against his brother.
"We talk for a little bit, that's it," Graham said. "No trash talking. We don't do that. We never did it. On the court, if we're playing each other in basketball, he gets angry fast, I like to brag to him if I make a jump shot. He gets mad at that."
Pitt's passing game is taking steps to becoming more of a force, but they may be up for their biggest challenge in Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have a lot of size to their secondary, but in addition to being a physical group, this secondary has a group of good tacklers, something Pitt hasn't seen this year. The combination of speedy secondary players who can tackle is an added bonus for any defense.
"They will play aggressive defense," Wannstedt said. "This week, the word is aggressive. They come after the ball. They pressure the passer. They go after you in the passing game."