Romeus, Pitt Defense To Be Tested

After getting blown out in the opener against Cincinnati, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano decided to turn over the reigns for his offense to Tom Savage, and the freshman quarterback has had four straight starts.

During that stretch, the Scarlet Knights offense feasted on lightweights Howard, Florida International, Maryland and Texas Southern, as Tom Savage padded his stats. Savage will be severely tested this week.

Savage and Rutgers (4-1, 0-1) play host to Pittsburgh (5-1, 2-0) in a Big East game tonight at 8 at RU Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN.

"I think Greg probably did it the right way,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He obviously recognized how much talent Savage has. I think he recognized that he wanted to get him in the lineup and get him playing time. I think he gave the older players an opportunity early in the year, and now they've made the change. Now, it's a matter of giving him confidence.

"They do a nice job of protecting him. (And) they've got a very good running game. They'll still do enough things ... throwing in a little bit of Wildcat with (Jabu) Lovelace, and doing a little bit of quarterback run game. So, they have a nice variety of things that they do on offense to not put all of the burden and all of the pressure on their quarterback.''

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Savage has played in all five games and completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 693 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Diminutive wideout Tim Brown leads the RU wideouts with 21 catches for 452 yards (21.5) and two scores, while 6-2, 215-pound freshman possession receiver Mohamed Sanu has 18 catches.

"For a freshman, he seems to be very strong mentally, and he's got a strong arm,'' Pitt sixth-year senior middle linebacker Adam Gunn said. "You usually don't see guys with such strong arms as a freshman, but we've watched a lot of film on him. And it should be a good battle.

"We'll try to put a lot of pressure on him, and maybe that will force him to make some freshman mistakes. But he's a great player for a freshman, and we're really looking forward to going up against him.''

Pitt redshirt junior right defensive end Greg Romeus is expected to put some heat on opposing quarterbacks every game, but this will be a difficult task since he faces Rutgers 6-6, 325-pound junior left tackle Anthony Davis. A possible first-round NFL draft pick if he turns pro next year, Davis provides Savage with protection from his blind side.

"(Savage) is a freshman, but he doesn't play like like it,'' Romeus said. "He can run a little bit, and he can scramble to get away from pressure. He has a strong arm and has made some good passes, but younger players -- any quarterback, really -- if you get in their heads and pressure them, they can make mistakes.

"(But) it'll be tough for me, because Davis is a big guy and an athletic guy. And he's going to be one of the better guys that I'll go against this year. So, I've watched a lot of film on him. I did all right last year, but I'll be looking real close at him this year and try to do my best against him this week.

"I think they're probably the best offensive line that we'll face this year,'' Romeus added, "because the other tackle is just as big. And the entire O-line is huge, so they're big and can move really well. Across the board, it's going to be a challenge, but we have to step up to the competition. We believe that we're a good D-line, too, so we'll see who will get the upper hand.''

With Davis and 6-7, 295-pound senior Kevin Haslam as bookend tackles, 6-4, 295-pound senior Ryan Blaszczyk at center and 6-8, 310-pound sophomore Art Forst and 6-6, 275-pound redshirt sophomore Desmond Wynn as the guards, the Rutgers O-line is huge and experienced. And it opens a lot of holes for the running game.

Redshirt sophomores Jourdan Brooks (6-1, 230) and Joe Martinek (6-0, 215) are tough and powerful, while freshman De'Antwan Williams (5-8, 195) is more of a scatback. Also, fifth-year senior backup quarterback Jabu Lovelace (6-2, 215) has run out of the Wildcat 12 times for 56 yards.

Martinek leads with 411 rushing yards (5.5 per carry) and five touchdowns, while Brooks has 236 (4.6) and four scores and Williams adds 221 (6.7) and one touchdown. So, tackling will be key again for Pitt's defense.

"The safeties have to come in and play the run, but they also have to be ready for play-action,'' Pitt secondary coach Jeff Hafley said. "Rutgers does a great job with it, so we have to be disciplined in that area. Last week, I think it was real solid, and I think the safeties did a great job. But we still need to improve.

"The area where we've improved the most, I think, is our tackling. Each game, we've become better tacklers and have taken better angles to the ball. We've practiced that way every day, and it's been great to see. Our coverage certainly has improved, and the guys are working hard at it.

"So, we just need to keep it up and keep getting better at it,'' Hafley added. "Tackling is something that we've improved on, and we're very good at it. But guys in the secondary are on a cliff back there, and it takes a very special person to play there. But our guys are up for that challenge.''

The Panthers weren't up to the task last season, as RU quarterback Mike Teel torched them for six touchdown passes.

"Last year, it was embarrassing for us against Rutgers, it came down to the defense -- especially the secondary -- so, we want to play a lot better this season,'' Pitt junior safety Dom DeCicco said. "We were coming off a couple big wins, and I don't think the focus, and maybe not even the effort, was there.

"But I know it's going to be a lot different this year. For me, personally, I'm not happy with the way that I've played. I've played decent, but I think I can play way better. Maybe some breaks will go my way, but I've been working hard to get better every week. I hope it happens this week.

"I've made some tackles, but I've missed some, too,'' DeCicco added. "The thing that I haven't done this year is make the big plays that I made last year. I haven't had the interceptions or forced the fumbles, but I'll keep working hard every week. So, things should turn out better for me soon.''

This Rutgers game would be a perfect opportunity for DeCicco to take his performance to another level.

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