Pitt Versus EMU Defense

The Pitt football team has just six seniors listed as starters for its game against Eastern Michigan Saturday at 6 p.m. at Heinz Field, but that doesn't bother third-year coach Dave Wannstedt in the least.

"It's a team game,'' Wannstedt said. "So, it's not the 11 best talent-wise or in experience. It's the best 11 at one time on the field, and I've got a feeling about this team. Our 11 are going to be better than what people think.''

Wannstedt noted that even though EMU was 1-11 last fall, six games were decided by a touchdown or less. Actually, two of those losses were by eight points, but the point was made The Eagles were somewhat better than what their record might indicate. But other statistics don't lie.

Eastern Michigan averaged only 13.9 points per game last season and never scored more than 21. EMU scored six points twice and was shut out once, so it's no surprise that the only player Wannstedt mentioned by name was Ray Guy Award semifinalist Zach Johnson. He averaged about 40 yards per kick and slipped 20 kicks inside the 20-yard line.

"They have one of the better punters in the country,'' Wannstedt said. "He's been around, and ... he'll have an opportunity to go on and kick at the next level. So, we've spent some extra time on that area.''

Even though he didn't note any specific players, Wannstedt said that EMU's defense was solid with nearly every starter returning. The Eagles allowed Mid-American Conference teams to just 21.8 points per game. Wannstedt called the EMU defense a group of playmakers.

The Eagles run a 4-3 defense, like Pittsburgh, with 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior defensive tackle Jason Jones anchoring the front line. He finished fifth nationally with 18.5 tackles behind the line to go along with four sacks and two forced fumbles. Junior tackle Josh Hunt also wreaked havoc with 10 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks.

The linebacking corps has junior Daniel Holtzclaw in the middle. He was 16th nationally with 114 tackles, and is joined by fellow two-year starter in senior strong-side linebacker Darran Matthews. He had 100 stops last season.

"Their defense is a lot like ours, so we've been going against it all preseason,'' Pitt junior quarterback Bill Stull said. "They have some real good players, especially up front, but they won't show us anything we haven't seen.''

And that should benefit Stull and the Panthers.

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