Rice Presents Big Challenge For Defense

The Pitt defense has improved immensely in the past few games, but the Panthers have been consistent in one area this season: They have not given up more than 100 yards to a running back since last fall.

And the only player to reach the century mark against the Pittsburgh defense was Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. Kaipo ran 25 times for 122 yards and one touchdown, passed for 166 and two scores and was the main reason the Midshipmen beat Pitt in two overtimes.

Since then, the Panthers (4-5, 2-2 in the Big East) have been a lot stingier. Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauck had 94 yards and one touchdown on 10 runs, but the Bearcats tallied just 121 rushing yards overall in a Pitt win. And in a tough loss at Louisville, the Cardinals ran for 120 yards. In the win against Syracuse, the Panthers squeezed the Orange for 30 rushing yards.

Things get increasingly difficult, however, as Pitt faces Rutgers (6-4, 2-3) and Heisman Trophy candidate Ray Rice Saturday at noon at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. Rice ran for more than 100 yards in the second half alone in a 20-10 win last year for the Scarlet Knights.

"We know what to expect from Ray Rice, and we know what he's capable of doing against us,'' redshirt junior middle linebacker Scott McKillop said. "But the entire country knows about him as well. So, I'm sure it's a challenge that myself, my fellow linebackers and our defensive line look forward to.

"He's an NFL-caliber back who's going to pound the ball, and we just have to try to minimize his yardage. We have to do it by gang-tackling him, because he won't go down too often on the initial hit, and he runs just as hard in the fourth quarter as he does in the first quarter.''

Rice finished with 225 yards and one touchdown on 39 carries against Pitt last season, and he had. He had 114 on just 15 carries against the Panthers in 2005, so he has been a handful for them to stop. The 5-foot-9, 205-pound dynamo ran for 1,794 yards last season and could surpass that total this fall. He has 1,500 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns through 10 games this season with Pitt and a game at Louisville remaining.

"He's got to be as durable a back as anybody that's playing college football today,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Every time you look at the stats, it seems like he's carrying it 30, 35 times a game. They think nothing of giving it to him that many times. He's showed that he's a tough guy, and he's showed that he's durable.''

Rice is also productive as a receiver with 23 catches for 224 yards and one touchdown this season. But running with the ball is his forte. The Panthers actually did a decent job slowing Rice down last year until he exploded for a 63-yard run from the Rutgers 10 to the Pitt 27-yard line before former Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis tracked him down. Rice added a 21-yard run, which drew a facemask penalty, and scored from the 1 to seal the RU win.

"He just torched us in the fourth quarter last year,'' fifth-year senior defensive end Chris McKillop said. "He was just running people over. He's tough to bring down. He runs the ball really hard. He comes at you just as hard in the fourth quarter as he does in the first quarter. He was running like someone stole something from his mother.''

The Panthers should hope Rice doesn't have that extra motivation this year.

Notes: Junior QB Bill Stull, who opened the season as the starter but injured his right thumb against Eastern Michigan, finally is throwing a real football in practice. However, the thumb is still wrapped, and he has not yet been cleared for contact. ... Redshirt sophomore TE John Pelusi has not practiced the past two weeks due to an unspecified injury. ... Sophomore OG Joe Thomas (hamstring) and junior TB LaRod Stephens-Howling (shoulder) have returned and should play this week. ... Redshirt sophomore DE Doug Fulmer (knee) has not yet been cleared to practice.

"We will surely attempt to get an extra year for Doug,'' Wannstedt said, "and it was two different injuries at two different times (ankle in 2006 and knee this past spring). It's a sad story, and we'll try to get it for him.

"Our compliance people are aware of it, and Donna (AD Sanft) is aware of it. They'll handle all the proper paperwork and the legislation that way, but I would surely think that Doug is the reason that rule is in place.''

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