Pitt's Defense To Be Tested

Gregg Brandon has been the head coach at Bowling Green for six seasons now and has made his own mark on college football, but a history with Florida's Urban Meyer gives him even more credentials as an offensive innovator.

So, Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and his highly-rated unit will be tested immediately in the opener against the Mid-American Conference Falcons beginning Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.

"I view it as what Navy does,'' Bennett said. "It's an equalizer, and they have good players. ... It balances things out for them, and their packages are dictated by what you do.

"They've taught it well. We all know their record from the last five years. They're the winningest MAC program. We know that they'll come in here, and they won't be intimidated.''

Bowling Green, which was 8-5 last season with a bowl victory, has gone 11-10 under Brandon against non-MAC teams since 2003. The Falcons won their opener last year at Minnesota 32-31 on a two-point conversion and also have wins at Purdue and against Northwestern in a bowl game.

Bennett noted that Bowling Green basically uses three personnel groupings with four-wide sets, three-wide with two backs and two tight ends with one back.

"They'll go empty in all of them,'' Bennett said. "They'll go three-by-one, two-by-two, just very multiple. And what makes their package similar to (others), they do all the same things in the same packages. So, the protections don't change, and that's easier for the linemen.''

Pitt should expect to see a lot of no-huddle offense, but the Falcons will see how the Panthers line up on defense and then get a play called from the press box. That sets it up, and Pitt will have to adjust from there.

"We call it Black Jack,'' Bennett said. "Then, (quarterback Tyler Sheehan) comes to the line, and he'll call it. They call that Indy tempo, and that's hard to prepare for. It's a little bit like the option, the speed of it, so you have to get your calls in and you've got to get set.

"They will decide whether it's run or pass by the way you align. So, the biggest thing is to get lined up and be in a position to make plays. If you line up in a five-man box, they'll run it. We know they can run it, too.''

Anthony Turner was Bowling Green's leading rusher last season, but he was moved to receiver this year. He had 519 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He also was 4-for-5 passing for 65 yards and three touchdowns and caught 22 passes with one score. So, expect tight coverage on him.

Sheehan completed nearly 64 percent of his passes for 3,264 yards and 23 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Freddie Barnes, the leading receiver, had 82 catches and nine touchdowns. He returns to a Falcons receiving corps that had 11 players with at least double-figure receptions.

"They run a lot of four-wide to get things in their favor,'' Pitt middle linebacker McKillop said. "We haven't seen this offense before, but I feel that we're up to the challenge. We're really looking forward to it. ... They score a lot of points.

"I'd say they're similar in a way to Eastern Michigan and Grambling State. And they have good players. They like to put four wide receivers on the field and get matchups in their favor with the linebackers.''

Bennett and Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt disagreed a bit. While EMU and Grambling run similar offenses, Bowling Green's personnel is much more talented and will be more dangerous in the open field.

So, this clearly will be a difficult test for the top-rated defense in the Big East.

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