No Ball, No Problem For Pitt

Phil Bennett played for legendary coach Emory Bellard at Texas A&M, and it was there that the current Pitt defensive coordinator learned all he needed to know about using and playing against the Wishbone offense from its inventor.

Each defensive player has a responsibility when going against a triple-option team line the one Pittsburgh faces this week, the U.S. Naval Academy Saturday at 6 p.m. at Heinz Field, and Bennett sharpened the Panthers' skills by utilizing a drill where a ball is not used.

The offense runs a play, and the defensive players must take care of the players that they're responsible for on offense. Pitt fifth-year senior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas explained the drill.

"It was the first time we had seen the Navy offense (in 2007), and the first time you see an offense like that it's very tricky,'' Mustakas said. "You don't see that a lot, and everyone has their assignment. And everyone has their responsibilities. That's why we have the period where we take the ball out.

"And everyone just tackles everyone on every play. So, seeing it for the first time, that really caught us by surprise. And we made a lot of mistakes, but we did a great job stopping them last year. We have the same strategy last year, and we'll try to do just as well this year.

"Me and Mick and Myles, we're tackling the fullback every play,'' Mustakas added. "No matter if he has the ball or not. We're tackling him every play. It's funny when somebody slips loose, and nobody tackles him. It's just like somebody is going for a big gain. So, everybody has to tackle everybody, and it helps us with all our responsibilities.''

Navy ran up and down Heinz Field on Pitt in 2007, but the Panthers pounded the Midshipmen into submission at Annapolis, Md. last year. Mustakas gave credit to Bennett for devising a defensive scheme and getting the squad prepared. Bennett spent the majority of his football life in Texas coaching with and against schools which ran an option-oriented offense.

"It's really nothing new,'' Bennett said. "It's been around a long time, but school's like Pitt don't see that offense all the time. After playing them the past two seasons, we're better prepared to face them.''

Pitt sixth-year senior Adam Gunn agreed. A strong performance by Gunn and the Panthers' linebackers should mean that Pitt is successful as well.

"It's not really about watching where the football is,'' Gunn said. "Sometimes, you don't even know where it is in the triple-option, so it's more about everyone being responsible for their player or a certain gap. And if every guy takes care of his own responsibility, the defense will be successful against Navy.''

Pitt secondary coach Jeff Hafley called it assignment football.

"You'd like everybody to understand where they need to fit into a scheme, and that's one way to definitely get it done, by not using a football,'' Hafley said.

Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt just wants the Panthers to play a clean game, no penalties, missed assignments or turnovers.

"This is a whole different deal this week,'' Wannstedt said. "On every play, everybody's responsible. Last year (and this year) when preparing for Navy, on the first two days, we didn't use a football. The thinking behind that is when preparing for the Wishbone, on every single play someone is responsible for the quarterback, fullback, and the pitch.

"If you execute the entire play out, you want to make sure that you are assignment clean. (And) when they change their formations and change what they do, we need to make sure that we're clean on responsibilities. Who has the quarterback, who has the fullback, and who has the pitch? ... They put a lot of pressure on your defense (and) really your secondary.''

And how Pitt reacts to that should determine its success level against Navy.

Panther Digest Top Stories