Pitt-Navy Preview

A couple things are certain when a school prepares to face the Naval Academy in a football game: The team's defensive players will be pretty sore by the end of the week, and that unit's coaches will be sleep-deprived.

Pittsburgh (2-0) meets Navy (1-1) today at 6 p.m. at Heinz Field.

"I don't sleep,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "I got here early, and I'm as wired as can be. I was talking to (Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin, and he asked me if they're still running the 'Mid-9 Follow,' (and) he remembered it from his days (in college at William and Mary).

"It is a brutal offense for guys on their legs, and what they've done this year is change the rule to where they can chop everybody in the front seven in a five-yard space. ... So, we've been working hard on that in practice. We've seen it before, and we're ready for it. So, we'll see what happens.''

And Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt believed there was only one way for the Panthers to get ready for Navy's chop-blocks.

"When you're preparing for a triple-option team like Navy, they do a lot of chopping at the line of scrimmage (and) cut-blocks on the perimeter,'' Wannstedt said. "So, there's no easy way, soft way or non-physical way to prepare for (them) without practicing at full speed in pads.

"So, we've worked on a lot of the techniques that Navy uses in their attacks. Last year, we had extra days to prepare for it, but this year we only had a week. So, we had to utilize every day that we had to get ready. (And) we'll be physical. So, the guys wore their braces, and we hit.''

The key to any option offense is the quarterback, because he touches the ball on every play and must decide to keep it, pitch it, hand off or drop back and throw it. According to Pitt's defensive coaches and players, Navy's Ricky Dobbs runs the show as well as any Midshipman quarterback in recent years.

Dobbs has 43 carries, a team high, and is second with 130 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Marcus Curry and Alexander Teich are the first- and third-leading rushers, respectively, with 138 (19 carries) and 93 (22 carries) yards.

The major difference between this year's quarterback and the previous one at Navy, known as Kaipo, is that Dobbs can drop back and throw the ball downfield if necessary. Sure, year in and year out, the Midshipmen lead or are among the nation's leading rushing teams, but passing is an option this season.

"That's what they do,'' Pitt sixth-year senior middle linebacker Adam Gunn said. "They run all those times, and then they try to catch you off-guard with a play-action pass and get you with a deep ball. So, you just need to stay sound with the defensive game plan.

"All the way from the defensive line through to the secondary. (And) this definitely is as good a passing quarterback as Navy has had. We need to be prepared for it even more this year. Kaipo was a great runner. Dobbs is a great runner, too, but he's also a passing threat.''

Dobbs is 14-for-21 this season (nearly 67 percent) for 259 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and a long pass for 85 yards. His top targets are Mario Washington and Mike Schnupp with four catches each for 68 and 35 yards, respectively. Curry has just two catches, but both went for touchdowns from 85 and 16 yards out.

"The thing that I've noticed from them is that in the first two games they've thrown 21 passes,'' Bennett said. "That's more than probably they have in the past. Dobbs, without question, is probably a more accurate thrower than what they've had at the position. I think, if you'd ask them, that's probably too many. ... But he's an accurate guy.''

Defensively, Navy runs primarily a three-four defense, but actually changes at various time in a game, according to Wannstedt. Inside linebacker Tyler Simmons and free safety Emmett Merchant are the leading tacklers with 14 and 13 stops, respectively, and Merchant has one interception.

Linebacker Ross Pospisil and Tony Haberer and cornerback Kevin Edwards also make plays for Navy, while senior outside linebackers Clint Sovie (one sack) and Craig Schaefer (two sacks) have two stops behind the line each.

"It's going to be a little different,'' Pitt quarterback Bill Stull said. "We really haven't faced a three-four (defense) yet, not as often as a four-man front.''

Wannstedt noted that Navy tries to create confusion on both sides of the ball, and that's because the Midshipmen have a veteran lineup.

"If you look at their roster, you see very few freshmen, you see very few sophomores,'' Wannstedt said. "They're older guys who have been in the system for a couple years. They're mature. They're out there battling and playing this game, because they love to play the game.

"If you put the tape on, whether it's watching Navy block an extra point, or watching them run an offensive or defensive play, they are out there going at a high level. It's motivating for me to watch them. I think it's good for our players to see them. (And) we've watched a lot of tape on Navy.''

Notes: Senior Greg Cross, who switched to wideout this past spring, reverted to his former position to mimic Navy quarterback Dobbs for Pitt's defense in practice. ... Redshirt freshman WR Mike Shanahan (hand) should make his debut this week after suffering the injury early in camp. ... Freshman TB Dion Lewis (scoring, touchdowns, rushing yardage and total yardage), redshirt junior Dan Hutchins (punting) lead the Big East. ... Lewis is third nationally in rushing yardage (159.50 yards per game), and so is Hutchins (47.4 yards per punt).

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