Dom DeCicco led Pitt with 11 tackles against Louisville on Saturday, having one of his biggest games in a Pitt uniform--something that keeps getting repeated each week by head coach Dave Wannstedt. Six of those tackles came on Louisvillle's first series, where quarterback Adam Froman tried to set up the short and intermediate passing game. It worked well early on, as Pitt had to come up with some answers.
"We went to a lot of base (coverage)," cornerback Antwuan Reed said. "We just had to tackle a lot more; tackle better, that's all."
DeCicco, after the game, credited Reed and fellow starting corner Ricky Gary for stepping up their game on Saturday. Because of their play, Pitt held Louisville starting quarterback Adam Froman to just 82 yards on 13-of-22 passing. Entering the game, Froman averaged 221.6 yards a game.
"Ricky and Antwuan Reed are really taking pride in their coverage," DeCicco said after the game. "Jason (Hendricks) and Jarred (Holley) are playing their butts off out there."
DeCicco then credited his defensive line--specifically Jabaal Sheard, for helping out the secondary at times. DeCicco also said that one of Sheard's sack was a coverage sack, but he had this to say about defensive end Sheard, who had two sacks by himself against an offensive line that allowed just seven all year. Sheard had another 2.5 tackles for losses.
"I think Jabaal is the best player in the Big East--bar none, offense or defense," DeCicco said. "The things he does; he's getting double-, triple-teamed. He's a football player, and he's making plays. You saw today when we needed a play, Jabaal is stepping up and doing it for us."
When Sheard was told what DeCicco said about him, here's how the senior defensive end responded.
"I appreciate it from him, but I definitely don't think I am," Sheard said. "I definitely look for improvement. I look for Dom to make huge plays. I look up to him. When Dom got his pick today, I was excited for him. Hopefully he returns one next time, and not go backwards."
There's no question the defensive units feed off each other, but based on their comments after the game, there's a lot of mutual respect between the secondary and front seven in the same manner. If it's not Sheard making a sack, or Brandon Lindsey making a sack, there's a player like Dom DeCicco or Jarred Holley coming up with an interception. With four regular season games to play, Sheard has nine sacks on the season. His previous career-high was 5.5 sacks in 2008. Lindsey has matched him, filling in for Greg Romeus. DeCicco has interceptions in consecutive games, and now has three on the season. Saturday's interception was also the tenth of his career.
Sheard has been productive without Romeus, while being double- and sometimes triple-teamed. With the bye week looming, there's a very good possibility that Romeus will be back for a Thursday night game at UConn in 11 days. Maybe Sheard looks forward to having Romeus back to take that attention off of him. First and foremost, he's looking forward to having his senior teammate back and at 100 percent.
"I know he's excited to play," Sheard said. "He talked about it against Rutgers--he wanted to put his pads on. He wanted to get out there and play, and get a couple sacks. Him watching us play, I know he's excited. That's my roommate. All day, he talks about coming back."
On a side note, how tough is it going to be for Dave Wannstedt to make that decision--or at least justify the rep total--between Greg Romeus and Brandon Lindsey? Sure, Romeus is your defending Big East Defensive Player of the Year. But, Lindsey has been producing in the present with his team-best nine sacks, which ties Sheard for the team-lead. Lindsey has made quite a case filling in for Romeus. No one could have predicted he would do this well in his absence.
DeCicco also praised the play of Myles Caragein, who came up with a 56-yard fumble return, off a forced fumble by Sheard, on Sheard's second sack of the day.
"Myles is all about winning," DeCicco said. "He does the dirty work that people may not see. He's taking on two or three blocks every play to let guys like Jabaal or Chas (Alecxih) make plays. It's awesome to see a guy who is grinding it out every play to come up with a big play like Myles gave us today."
From showing mutual respect for other defensive players who stepped up and made plays on Saturday, those plays got the defense off the field, and set the offense up in some good situations. Sheard's first sack forced a fumble, which Louisville fell on. The Cardinals decided to just run the clock out, not wanting to risk anything worse, ending the first half. Sheard's second sack forced Caragein's monster return--which then set up a Pitt touchdown.
It may not have been the prettiest win, but the Pitt defense had a lot of things to say on and off the field, that from their perspective, made it pretty.