Pitt's Bandit Defends The Spread

It's simply known as the Bandit, according to Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, and while it's not in the origin some thievery can be involved.

But the defensive scheme, installed to better handle quarterback Matt Grothe and South Florida's unique spread offense, utilizes four linemen, a linebacker and six defensive backs. While Pittsburgh was in this defensive set, it recorded an interception, Grothe's first in more than 100 passes, and a sack.

"It's something we used when I was at K-State,'' Bennett said. He worked with the secondary and was the coordinator at Kansas State from 1999-2001.

"We had some hybrid players when I was there, some guys like Elijah Fields, who can be just as good in coverage as they are coming up to play the run. It's been pretty good so far. Hopefully, we'll be able to continue that success.''

Pitt's starting defensive line -- ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard and tackles Rashaad Duncan and Mick Williams -- remains on the field, along with middle linebacker Scott McKillop. The outside backers are replaced by defensive backs. So, starting safeties Eric Thatcher and Dom DeCicco and cornerbacks Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel are joined by safety Fields and corner Ricky Gary.

"It all depends on matchups and what the team that we're playing is doing offensively,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "But we have a few young guys who can cover, and we're just trying to get them all on the field.

"We're going to start playing Antwuan Reed a little bit more now. He can cover, and Ricky Gary, too. So, we've got four corners, Buddy Jackson, so we've got a little bit of depth there. And if the matchups are good, we'll use it.''

The No. 24 Panthers, 4-1 with a bye week before facing Navy (4-2) Oct. 18 in Annapolis, Md., brought out the Bandit for USF's second offensive possession and used it on the Bulls' second drive in the second half as well, among others. But those two clearly stood out.

In the first half, Grothe was in a second-and-eight situation and hurried a poor throw. DeCicco stepped up and picked off the pass. It was the first interception Grothe had thrown in 110 attempts. DeCicco believed that success could boost his play, as well as the defense's performance, through the remaining games.

"Obviously, we've had success every time that we got into that Bandit package against South Florida,'' DeCicco said. "I love it, and it helps that we have five guys who can cover like corners, including Elijah.

"So, I pretty much have the easiest job, stay up top to find the ball. But I love that package, and everybody else in the secondary loves it, too. (So), it was a confidence-builder for me to get that interception. I really needed that.''

USF moved quickly downfield for a touchdown on its opening drive in the second half, so the Panthers dusted off the Bandit for the next possession. On second-and-five, Berry was able to get a hand on a Grothe pass and knock it down. That set up a third down that McKillop was able to read.

According to Wannstedt, McKillop can either blitz or drop into coverage, depending on what he believes the offense will do. On this play, USF was spread out more, which indicates a Grothe run is probable. So, when a crack opened in the Bulls' offensive line, McKillop blitzed through it and nailed Grothe for a 10-yard sack to kill the drive.

"We really clicked on defense against South Florida, probably playing as well as we have all season,'' McKillop said. "So, we just have to keep it up. Against USF we knew in an empty set that they were going to throw the ball.

"And if they spread out real wide, they want Grothe to run. ... The Bandit was pretty successful last week, and hopefully we'll see more of it in the future. But we'll see what happens for Navy. They're not really a spread team.''

But when opponents bring that offense against the Panthers now, they're certainly much better prepared to face it.

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