Pitt's Defense Must Stop Triple-Option

The Pitt football team began preparing for Navy's triple-option offense in the preseason, so it hasn't been a crash course for the Panthers the week prior to the matchup with the Midshipmen Wednesday night at 8 at Heinz Field.

But Pittsburgh (2-3) needed to pick up the pace after a brief hiatus, and Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt had the perfect drill. It seems that Navy (3-2) likes to cut-block the opposition's defensive linemen, and Wannstedt noted that the only way to get ready was to practice the drill under live conditions.

"It takes a little more time to prepare for this, so getting ready for them on a short week would have been real tough,'' Wannstedt said. "It's not as much what you're doing on defense. It's really trying to get some offensive execution so that you're prepared for it. That's the biggest challenge.

"So, we had our defensive linemen wear shin guards, and we had offensive linemen cutting (them) full speed in practice. We had two cases that were close to me standing here saying that we've got two more guys redshirting. But there's no way to get ready for this other than to do it full speed.''

Pitt had several solid practices this week to prepare, and that was necessary for the Panthers to get back on track against the Midshipmen.

"With the style of offense and defense that they run, it is different than what most people do, so the extra work will come in handy,'' Wannstedt said. "It's challenging, but we have spent a lot of time with the execution of it.

"Since it's an option team, it's real critical not to just run plays, but you have to keep the proper distance between the quarterback and running backs. Also, they cut (block) right across the line of scrimmage on every play. So, we had to work real hard on that aspect in practice.''

With the problems that Pitt has been having on offense, it can't afford to let Navy get its offense in high gear. The Midshipmen can control the clock if that happens, 8-9 minutes per drive, which wouldn't give the Panthers much of a chance to score with their popgun attack.

"We have to be precise on every series,'' Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "We can't waste any possessions. I saw one possession on a tape and then I noticed we were in the second quarter.

"So, I think it's imperative that we don't go three-and-out and put the ball back in their hands because they can control the ball and the clock and give us limited opportunities. So, we want to be the team to hold onto the ball, taking time off the clock and scoring points.''

Navy's offense utilizes the fullback dive play to perfection, which Wannstedt said the Midshipmen will run "30 times in a row'' if the Panthers don't show an ability to stop it. Navy has an excellent fullback in Eric Kettani, who averages more than six yards per carry with 318 yards rushing, but the top rusher is quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada with 418 yards and seven scores.

But Pitt won't be able to key on either, because the triple-option allows an offense to spread the ball around, and the Midshipmen take full advantage. Navy has five players who have average at least 40 yards rushing per game and is second in the nation with 348 yards rushing per game.

"I watched film on them a lot,'' sophomore cornerback Aaron Berry said. "They run the option real well, and they're going to keep running it. So, we have to tackle real well. And for me, I just have to make sure I don't come up one time, and they step back and hit a pass. That's the main thing.

"They don't throw a lot, but they pick their spots. When teams think they're not going to pass, they can hit a big one. So, we just have to play disciplined and make all our fits properly, and I think we'll be all right. We just have to keep working hard, and hopefully we'll get this thing turned around.''

Kaheaku-Enhada has completed 53 percent of his passes and thrown for 460 yards with an average of 17 yards per completion.

"That's why we have to be disciplined against the triple-option,'' Wannstedt said. "They can hit a big pass if we're not disciplined.''

So, it's a good thing that the Panthers had extra time to work on defending Navy's triple-option offense.

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