Pitt DC Paul Rhoads Has A Plan

Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt has said several times this week that he would like the Panthers to allow West Virginia to put together 10-12-play drives when the two teams meet in the 100th Backyard Brawl Saturday at 7:45 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.

Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads had a different idea.

"I'd like to force them to go three-and-out as many times as I can,'' Rhoads said. "He keeps saying that, but I don't want to stay out on the field to keep defending them. Seriously, what you don't want to give up is two plays for 80 yards and a touchdown.

"But if being successful causes us to stay out on the field and making them sustain it and then something positive in the form of a penalty or a turnover takes place, then that's great.

"If we're fortunate enough to be playing well enough to force them to go three-and-out or get an early turnover, that's even better,'' Rhoads added. "But the killer is big-play touchdowns, and that's what you've got to eliminate against West Virginia.''

While it's difficult to compare WVU quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton to other players, past and present, Rhoads was asked to draw a parallel to former Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick. The Hokies competed for the national title that year, and Vick was a Heisman finalist.

"I was asked to describe Pat White, and playing Michael Vick back in 2000 for a comparison I would say that Pat White is a better runner, and he runs it more frequently,'' Rhoads said. "And he's a more accurate thrower than Michael Vick was when we faced him at Virginia Tech.

"So, he's a tremendous football player. Both he and Steve Slaton have great speed and can make you miss, and when one guy has to tackle them that makes it very tough. So, you try to be as sound as you can ... and hopefully, you'll have everybody in the right place, and then enough people where they're needed. (But) you've got to cover every gap.''

Pitt's Joe Clermond was asked to compare White to South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe, and the fifth-year senior defensive end noted that while Grothe is bigger and stronger White is much faster. And both can throw the ball effectively, as well as run it, so there are similarities.

The Panthers have been using freshman Aundre Wright to simulate the WVU quarterback during practice this week, and Wannstedt believed it would be as difficult to tackle Pitt's fastest player as it will be White. Clermond agreed.

"I think he might be faster than Pat, and he's very elusive,'' Clermond said. "He's something that I've never seen before. I've never seen anybody move side to side like him and change direction, so he's going to be a big factor in our preparation for how we're going to perform on Saturday.

"But Pat's going to be tough to stop, and I've been dreaming about getting a shot at both him and Slaton. They're two good backs, and they're going to be hard to stop. But it's fun to get out there and give it a shot. There's always a lot of motivation going in there to play them, and since it's the 100th anniversary of the Backyard Brawl makes it even more of a challenge.''

That's why it hasn't been difficult for Pitt's coaches to motivate the players this week. There's too much at stake.

"We want to beat them for a lot of reasons,'' Pitt sophomore cornerback Aaron Berry said. "They're our big rival, and we need a big win this season. It won't make us forget that we don't have a winning record, but it's a way for us to go out on a winning note toward next season. And it's also a way for us to give our seniors a good present in their last game at Pitt.''

And it's a good way to put a positive spin on a less-than-positive season.

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