Less finesse and more physical games ahead
This Pitt defense is preparing to face a tough and physical Navy team on Saturday. Since last week, the main focus of practice has shifted from rushing the passer to stopping the run.
Old Dominion's offensive strategy is centered on their passing game. Whereas, Navy runs a completely different offense, which doesn't include much passing. The Midshipmen strictly run the read-option and pound it up the middle.
"We have to be very disciplined in our keys," said defensive lineman Bryan Murphy after Tuesday's practice. "We can't make any mistakes. If we do make any mistakes and one person doesn't cover their man then Navy could hit us for a big run. Then we would be in trouble."
The defensive line has seen this type of offense before with New Mexico, but now they will face it in back-to-back weeks with Navy and Georgia Tech on the schedule ahead. "It will be good to get this type of offense out of the way with these two upcoming teams," said Murphy. "It is a very difficult offense to play, especially as a defensive lineman or linebacker."
With a more physical game ahead of the Pitt defense, that means more physical practices. "We've been pounding out there," said Murphy. "We have to get ready for the speed, because it's quick and you have to be right on everything.
"We practiced cuts a lot today, and you have to be ready on every single play. The scout team was coming after us today, harder than I've ever seen them, which is good for us."
Murphy's right about this Navy team's preference to run the ball. Navy is averaging 304.2-yards rushing per game, and have recorded 21 rushing touchdowns to just three passing touchdowns.
Pitt, however, will look to stop the run on Saturday. In their first six games, the Panthers have limited their opponents' rushing average to a 136-yards, and have given up only eight rushing touchdowns. The Panthers are expecting a physical fight against Navy. And like Murphy said any single mistake can be costly to this defense, especially on the run. The defense just needs to stay consistent and continue to improve week in and week out.
Making the most of limited opportunities
Wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon shares Murphy's mentality, it's important for the special teams unit to continually grow and improve just like the offense and defense. Last Saturday, Weatherspoon was the spark on special teams with a 56-yard punt return against ODU.
"Special teams is where a lot of big plays can happen, and it can swing the game," said Weatherspoon after Tuesday's practice. "As we go on as a unit and keep practicing then we will get better at that."
Although, the opportunities are limited for Weatherspoon to always make those big plays, it shows fans what the group is capable of on special teams.
In Navy's first six games, they have given up an average of 5.2-yards per punt return. Although, the numbers may not be in favor of repeating a 56-yard PR, Weatherspoon is confident his blockers will give him plenty of more opportunities to go for it.
Weatherspoon is also confident in the receiving core, even with Pitt's top wide receiver Devin Street currently sidelined because of a shoulder injury. "When one person goes down, we have to have faith in each other," said Weatherspoon. "But with Street out it's hard to say that because he is such a big part of this offense."
According to head coach Paul Chryst from Monday's press conference, Devin Street and starting running back James Conner are still questionable for this Saturday against Navy, but reported by Chryst to be coming along well.
Pitt (4-2) will look to tally its fifth win of the season on Saturday against Navy (3-3). The Panthers are hoping to walk out of this physical battle injury-free, and not with an identical record to the Midshipmen.