Berry: 'Tackling Is The Key'

As a senior cornerback in Pitt's secondary, Aaron Berry has been a lightning rod for criticism after the Panthers were torched for 322 passing yards at North Carolina State, which was just two weeks after they gave up 433 at Buffalo.

However, a closer look at those games revealed that one player certainly wasn't the culprit. The entire Pittsburgh defense from front to back should be held accountable. The D-line certainly didn't to a good job containing either quarterback, while the linebacking corps and secondary missed tackles.

And Aaron Berry provided an analysis.

"It's just a matter of us not making plays in the secondary,'' Berry said. "A couple of those calls were questionable, but they called them. So, we can't dwell on them. Officials don't lose games for us. We just need to make more plays. That's it, plain and simple. Those big plays, they're hurting us a lot.

"And teams really aren't getting big shots down the field, but they're getting little ones and getting YAC (yards after catch) yards. So, our secondary and linebacking corps, we've just got to tackle better. We've got to wrap up and get a guy on the ground. I really don't think there's a good explanation for it.

"We just aren't wrapping up,'' Berry added. "We put a shoulder into a kid to get him down instead of wrapping up and putting him down. The key is to wrap up. That will improve our tackling. ... I feel like I could have made a few more plays to help our team. As a leader, I have to take responsibility for that.''

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt noted that the Panthers (3-1), who are at Louisville (1-2) tonight at 8, have worked on tackling drills just as often as always and even more lately. And he also has discussed the situation with members of the defense, including Berry.

Wannstedt believed the Panthers have not been playing as fast as they should due to a lack of confidence. This also has led to various penalties, in particular pass-interference and holding calls to extend an opponent's offensive drives.

"To me, the whole deal is having confidence,'' Wannstedt said. "I talked to Aaron after the game. He's faster than anybody he's going to play against or as fast as anybody. He's got good ball skills. He knows the defense. There's no need to grab, or push, or pull. Just cover the guy. So, he's two inches taller than you. You can jump (to) get good position on him or strip the ball.

"I think when you get penalties in some situations, a lot of it has to do with a little lack of confidence or a little bit of insecurity at being able to execute your assignment. It's like an offensive lineman ... that constantly holds. Usually, the result is that he is not real confident that he can block that guy, and the minute he gets in a stressful situation he reaches back and grabs him.

"(And) where you get confidence is in practice,'' Wannstedt added. "That's what I tell our guys. We're going to stress it more than ever (as well as) the importance of not getting penalties that could be the difference in the game. I think (at N.C. State), we had penalties in all three phases. They could have all made a difference. (On a) kickoff return, (on) offense, and defense.''

Berry has a chance to put Wannstedt's theories into practice against Louisville and big wideout Scott Long, the Cardinals' top receiver.

"I just have to get up in his face and jam him as much as possible,'' Berry said. "When you give a guy a lot of room to work, he can give you a double move and make a quick catch that can turn into more yardage. So, I have to get up on him and make it tough for him to catch the ball. Communication is the key. We have to stay on the same page, the safeties and corners, stay on our guys.

"So, that will be important for us to be on the same page. Losing Tags hurt us a little with our depth, and we had two bad games. But I still feel like we're coming together. I think Jovani's played well. Scoot's still getting his feet wet after two games as a starter, and Ricky played well except for one play. But we just can't dwell on what happened and have to look forward to the next game.

"We just need to keep working hard and get better every day,'' Berry added. "(And) we have to tackle better. Nobody has taken shots downfield against us. Short passes have turned into big plays because of our tackling. Poor tackling has hurt us the most. We haven't blown coverages. We're in the right place, but we just have to tackle better and get the guy on the ground.''

If that doesn't happen, Pitt's defense could be in for another long game.

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