Since he took over at Rutgers about a decade ago, Greg Schiano has massaged that defensive philosophy a bit. Instead of the straight-up four-three base that dominates Wannstedt defenses, Schiano has added movement. Lots of movement in the form of complex, exotic blitzes to provide pressure.
And Pittsburgh (5-1, 2-0) must be ready for those when it faces Rutgers (4-1, 0-1) in a Big East game Friday night at 8 at RU Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN.
"Probably 50 percent of the time, they bring some sort of pressure, and that's two more people -- maybe a corner or maybe a safety with a linebacker -- and combine that with line movements on the majority of their plays,'' Wannstedt said. "So, very seldom are they sitting still (and) playing a straight four-three base defense. If you see that every week, then it's a little easier.
"But the last three teams we've played, N.C. State, Louisville and Connecticut, they're pretty much standard four-three teams like us. Those are the ones that we've been seeing, so it takes some practice time and extra film time to get in sync, because if one guys sees it that doesn't do any good. Everybody has to be on the same page for this one, and they do a good job disguising it.
"They play man and zone and make it look the same, so they have a nice little package to bring defensive pressure,'' Wannstedt added. "So, we have to be mentally sharp, recognize things, communicate and execute our assignments. They move constantly with their linebackers, with their defensive line. It forces you to handle it physically. But it really tests you mentally, too.''
The catalyst for the Rutgers defense is Ryan D'Imperio with team-high 28 tackles, including 15 solo stops, a sack, three pass breakups, an interception and two quarterback hits. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior moves from side to side to make plays all over the field.
"He's a playmaker,'' Wannstedt said. "They use him very similar in their scheme as we use Adam Gunn now and used Scott McKillop and H.B. Blades. Your middle linebacker has to be a guy who's going to get probably more opportunities than most to make tackles, to make plays.
"You've got to have that type of player there and he's that type of guy. You can see his energy level. You can see his leadership and playmaking ability. He's a good player, and we have to be aware of him at all times.''
Several other players have been key performers for Rutgers' defense. The Scarlet Knights have 18 sacks and 41 total stops behind the line with junior Jonathan Freeny and senior George Johnson, the backup and starting left ends, respectively, providing the most pressure. Freeny has 6.5 sacks and eight total tackles behind the line, while Johnson has 4.5 sacks and seven stops for loss.
The Rutgers defense also has eight interceptions, with eight different players getting the picks, and 43 quarterback hits. Senior cornerback Devin McCourtney is the ringleader of the secondary for the Scarlet Knights.
"It's a very advanced defense, and they bring a lot of different stuff,'' Pitt senior center Robb Houser said. "It's among the most complicated defenses that we'll see, but going against our defense will help a lot because they're so good. But the whole O-line, we've all watched extra film, so ... we'll be ready.
"It's more like an NFL-type defense with third-down pressures. They bluff on one side and bring heat from the other. They do that, but they can fake it. There are line stunts, so we have to be on top of things at all times. (And) it's not so much that they'll bring more pressure, but it's different.
"It's just in a more complicated way that they do it,'' Houser added. "They disguise it very well, and they use a lot of finesse. It's different than what most teams do. But they're also physical, so it should be a big challenge for our offensive line. They have a lot of tricks that we need to be ready for.''
Rutgers also ranks second nationally in turnover margin. The Scarlet Knights are plus-16 on defense with eight interceptions and eight fumbles, but they have only lost one fumble and thrown three picks -- none by freshman starting quarterback Tom Savage -- for a plus-12 overall margin.
Rutgers Defense Brings Heat
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