Pitt Versus EMU Offense

Pitt has been working at least one period per practice on the spread-option offense, the one run so well by West Virginia and also South Florida in the Big East, and the Panthers will get a quick preview of those opponents when Eastern Michigan visits Saturday at 6 p.m. at Heinz Field.

The Eagles offense is also a version of the spread that many teams are running now, so Pittsburgh should be ready for it.

"We (use) two or three wide receivers,'' EMU coach Jeff Genyk said. "We try to spread the field and run the football. We try to balance some between the run and the pass to move the ball down the field.''

EMU does it quite methodically, though, as it averaged just 9.4 yards per catch and 3.4 per rush to go 1-11 last season. The Eagles scored just 13.9 points per game. Comparatively, Pitt averaged 3.9 yards per carry and 13.1 yards per reception.

EMU is led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Andy Schmidt, who missed the entire spring after offseason shoulder surgery. Schmidt hasn't missed any time in the preseason, Genyk said. He has developed a quick release and can make plays with his arm as well as his legs.

Schmidt played in nine games and started seven last fall. He led EMU with 461 yards rushing and four touchdowns and completed 61.5 percent for 1,182 yards, two touchdowns and six picks. Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Jones was second with 310 yards rushing and four scores. He completed 55.2 percent for 754 yards, four scores and nine INTs.

Senior tailback Pierre Walker averaged 4.2 yards per rush and had two TDs. But the wideouts are more crucial to EMU's offensive success, as six players have double-figure catches. Leading receivers Eric Deslauriers (74 catches for 894 yards and five scores) and Trumaine Riley (45 catches) are gone.

That leaves Dontayo Gage (28 catches) DeAnthony White (15), Jacory Stone (13) and Travis Lewis (10), but White (11.7 yards per catch) is the only player who averages double figures in yardage. Stone and Lewis have one touchdown each, the only ones to reach the end zone.

So, EMU clearly tries to use runs by its quarterbacks, as well as a short passing game, to steadily move the ball downfield. But Wannstedt believed the Panthers were ready to handle it because they are quicker and stronger on defense than the past few years.

"If you're aggressive and athletic, you can cause turnovers,'' Wannstedt said. "If you're big and slow and can't make a play, you're never going to be in position to make a play. You're never going to be in position to hit the guy hard enough or to strip the ball or to come up with the interception.

"So, the more confident that our guys get and the more experience and the more athletic we are, you're going to see more turnovers. And I think we're a lot further ahead today in those areas than we were a year ago.''

But it remains to be seen if that will make a difference for the Panthers.

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