Monday Press Conference Recap

One of the items kicked around in Dave Wannstedt's Monday press conference was the Big East. This past weekend alone, three road teams scored big wins, coming off losses. Now, it's up to Pitt to make sure they too don't get knocked off at home. The Panthers are 2-0 in the conference play right now, and in control of their own destiny.

Dave Wannstedt addressed a few of the injuries with the team. Justin Hargrove did not play, forcing the team to rely heavily on Brandon Lindsey and Jabaal Sheard at defensive end. Wannstedt said Hargrove practiced Sunday night, and he expects Hargrove to be back in the rotation for Saturday's game against Louisville. He said the same of Lucas Nix, who left the Rutgers game in the fourth quarter with a sore knee. Wannstedt said Nix was a little bit sore, but that he too practiced Sunday night, and will play Saturday against Louisvlle.

Wannstedt also issed a brief update on defensive end Greg Romeus.

"Greg is making progress," Wannstedt said. " We're just week-by-week with him. Nothing new to report."

When Nix exited the game in the fourth quarter--which was on Pitt's final touchdown drive of the day--Greg Gaskins came in at right guard. Gaskins, of course, started the first three games, before Wannstedt did some reshuffling on the offensive line that included Gaskins losing his starting job.

On that drive, Gaskins came up with a couple key blocks for Dion Lewis, who carried the ball four times on that drive for 52 yards, including runs of 23 and 22 for the touchdown. Gaskins threw key blocks on both of those plays, and drew praise from Wannstedt on Monday.

"If he was not working hard, and approaching it the right way, when your number is called, the odds are against you going out there and performing," Wannstedt said. "He's preparing to be the starter. He knows he's one injury away from being in the lineup. He's disappointed. Obviously, he would like to be playing more. He's approaching it the right way. I'm sure before it's all over he'll be getting a lot of playing time."

With Hargrove out of the lineup, Pitt relied a lot on Sheard and Lindsey. Both players had big games; Sheard with three sacks and Lindsey with two. They did this despite having to take the majority of the snaps, and not having the luxury of getting a breather here and here.

The great thing about it, was that the defense was playing so well, Sheard and Lindsey didn't need to take any reps off. Wannstedt has been comfortable using as many as four defensive ends, but on Saturday he only needed to rely heavily on these two. He estimated that T.J. Clemmings and Bryan Murphy played around 10 to 12 snaps. One thing that benefited Pitt, since they were obviously without Romeus and without Hargrove--who has become a bigger part of the defensive line this year--was the number of snaps the team had to play on defense in the second half.

"We played less than sixty plays on defense," Wannstedt said. "The whole second half, we kept wanting to get (Bryan) Murphy in there, and get T.J. Clemmings a little bit more playing time. But, it was three-and-out, three-and out. There just weren't a whole lot of possessions in the second half. To be exact, it was about 40 plays.

"Aaron Donald played about 20 plays. It was a little bit over 20 plays. He played the most out of all the freshmen. T.J. and Murphy played about 10 or 12 plays. They all got some playing time, and will continue to do that. We'd like to rotate them, but not at the expense of not being as effective as we need to be."

Though the defensive line provided pressure all day against Rutgers, even with the pressure, Pitt's corners were in good position to make plays all day. Prior to Tom Savage coming in the game against the second-team defense, the starting secondary didn't allow a passing play longer than 18 yards. Rutgers' 108 total yards passing was the lowest against Pitt all year, also marking the first time the Pitt defense had held an opponent to under 200 yards passing.

Starter Chas Dodd completed just 8-of-19 passes for 62 yards and an interception, after averaging 286.5 yards passing in the previous two games; the first two starts of his career.

"We've been very consistent with our coverage," Wannstedt said. "The guys have been making good checks back there. Guys are in place. Really, since the Utah game--twice we dropped coverage and gave up two scores--since that game, we've really cleaned it up back there. The guys have done a great job of being where they're supposed to be.

"Ricky Gary is really having a good year. Antwuan (Reed) has gotten better. We're using Buddy Jackson--not just on special teams, but in our nickel package."

On offense, Louisville has eight senior starters, and another five on defense. Adam Froman is the senior starter at quarterback. He made his first career start against the Panthers last year in Louisville. This year, he is second in the Big East in passing yards (1,551) with 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Bilal Powell became the first Big East running back to surpass the 1,000-yard mark, with 1,003 yards. He also leads the conference with nine rushing touchdowns.

Louisville's top two receivers are senior receiver Doug Beaumont (24 rec., 308 yards, TD) and senior tight end Cameron Graham (22 rec., 264 yards, 3 TD). Four of the five starters on the offensive line are also seniors. On defense, the Cardinals are led by senior cornerback Johnny Patrick (3 INT) and senior defensive end Rodney Gnat (6.5 sacks).

"There's no question, as a football team from top to bottom, Louisville is the best team we have played in our conference without a doubt," Wannstedt said. "They're a senior team. They got a group of guys that have been there, have played, have got game experience. Charlie Strong has implemented a system and an attitude that the kids have bought into. They're performing at a high level."

Wannstedt also said, in his Big East teleconference, that Strong is having great success in his first year because he's brought in a defensive mentality that also relies on a heavy running game.

"Obviously, he's a defensive coach," Wannstedt said. "Any time a defensive coach gets hired, they understand the importance of running the ball. I see that happening. Obviously only being there one year, coming from Florida, he's got good connections down there. Louisville will see some benefits from the recruiting side of the game too."

Last week, Pitt went to Syracuse and beat the Orange 45-14. Louisville couldn't hang on at home in a 35-27 loss to Cincinnati. South Florida couldn't get anything going in a 20-6 loss at West Virginia.

The following week, all three of those Big East teams responded with big wins. Syracuse went down to West Virginia, and ended a nine-game losing streak to the Mountaineers in a 19-14 win. South Florida--who wasn't able to score on offensive touchdown the week before--had a 38-30 win at Cincinnati. Louisville went up to UConn, and shut out the Huskies on their home field, 26-0. All three teams rebounded with impressive road victories.

The question is, how are the Pitt players handling this week, making sure they don't suffer a devastating loss such as the three Big East teams who were knocked off at home last week. Henry Hynoski and Jarred Holley were the player reps at Monday's press conference.

"It's the biggest game of the year," Hynoski said. "This is our title game this week. We have to approach it every week. We can't look ahead. We can't look at who beat who. It's focus on the present, who we have next. We can't look ahead."

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