Pitt Defense Must Pressure Clausen

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis once said that the quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.

The Pitt football team would like to take that to heart, as it faces Notre Dame and quarterback Jimmy Clausen this week.

No. 8 Pittsburgh (8-1) faces Notre Dame (6-3) Saturday at 8 p.m. at Heinz Field. The game will be broadcast nationally by ABC-TV.

"It's actually never about sacks,'' Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said. "It's about pressure, and I don't mean blitz pressure. I mean that we've got to make (Clausen) uncomfortable. We've got to get him to move his feet and to distract him from his throws. This kid's one of the best quarterbacks that I've seen in my five years here at Pitt.

"He's a kid that if he can stay on his rhythm and his concentration stays strong and we can't distract him, then he could be very difficult for us to stop. Last year, we dumped him, hit him and got him on the ground a couple times. (But) we've got to get him running around or it's going to be a long day for our defense, because he's good.

"And he's got the tools around him,'' Gattuso added, "probably one of the best receiving corps in college football, so it's a big deal for us this week for our defensive line to pressure the quarterback. So, this definitely will be a huge game for us to see where our D-line is and what we're all about.''

The Pitt defense leads the nation with 38 sacks, 4.22 per game, and redshirt junior end Greg Romeus leads with 7.5 sacks and nine total stops behind the line. Sixth-year senior middle linebacker Adam Gunn has five sacks, but those came early in the season, and he's the only non-lineman in the leaders.

Backup interior D-linemen Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih and second-team end Brandon Lindsey, all redshirt sophomores, have four sacks each. Fifth-year senior tackle Mick Williams has three sacks and 13 stops behind the line, while junior end Jabaal Sheard has 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for minus-yardage.

The Panthers have 15 different players with at least a half sack this season, and they've accomplished that feat, primarily, without blitzing extensively.

"I'll bet you we only blitzed 10 times in the past five weeks,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "A lot of those sacks are coverage sacks. If we can get two guys back there covering one, the quarterback is going to have to hold the ball.

"So there's a trade-off. It's really a matter of what you believe in and what you're most comfortable with doing. Not to say that we aren't going to blitz this week. We'll mix it in, but we don't do it a whole lot overall.''

Gattuso noted that blitzing isn't something that's discussed, kind of like a no-hitter in baseball, but he quickly added that with how well the starters on the line are playing, backups like Caragein, Alecxih and Lindsey have been crucial to the line's overall success.

"Our kids are doing a nice job attacking the line of scrimmage and being aggressive, and that's our philosophy,'' Gattuso added. "So, if you want to rush the quarterback, this is a great place to do it. ... We count on our front four to get to the quarterback. And if we don't, it's going to cause problems for us.''

Notre Dame has a senior at every spot on the offensive line, which averages about 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds. The tackles are Sam Young (6-8, 320) and Paul Duncan (6-7, 315), while Eric Olsen (6-4, 305) is the center. The guards are Dan Wenger (6-4, 302) and Chris Stewart (6-5, 330).

"Yeah, they're pretty big, and every single one of those guys are 4-5-star guys,'' Gattuso said. "They're fifth-year seniors. When we played them five years ago here, they were all fifth-year seniors, and they beat us up. So, it's going to be a big challenge for our guys, but we're a speed team.

"We recruit guys who are quick and fast, so we have no intention to try to run right through these guys. So, we're going to be fast and athletic, and hopefully we'll get some pressure. They're formidable. They're a big group, and they'll protect (Clausen). So, this is a big challenge, but we're excited about it.''

Gattuso noted that a big difference five years ago, during that initial matchup with Notre Dame at Heinz Field, "when they punched us in the mouth, we backed down. But that won't happen now. In football, the linemen are going to go out and battle. Our offensive line ... they're physical.

"They're going to get after their guys. And our guys on defense, we'll play hard from whistle to whistle. We've played a lot of games against good teams over the past few years, and we've got some experience. We've been through the wars before, so we know what it takes. We'll go after them.''

But Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett believed that if the Panthers go after Clausen, they will pick and choose their opportunities. Clausen has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 2,770 yards and 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions. The Irish have allowed 19 sacks this season.

"It's just like any game, there has to be a balance,'' Bennett said. "When you pressure people, it's a calculated risk, and you want to achieve what you're trying to do. ... So, you look at everything, and you have to figure out when you have an opportunity to pressure them. It doesn't hurt to get bored.

"I'm not a dial-up guy. It's obvious that they've got five eligible receivers, and you've got a front four and seven defenders. So, the numbers are there if you can get pressure. But that line is huge. Maybe three of them will be in the NFL. We didn't call a blitz at all last week, but that probably was a lack of need.

"That might not be the case this week,'' Bennett added. "(But) this might be the best passing team in the country. It's a team that really can throw the ball with the threats that they have, so our guys know that it's definitely going to be a challenge. What did they throw for last week, 450? (And) you've got maybe 4-5 first-round picks on that team. So, it's a pride thing for our defense.''

And it wouldn't hurt Pitt to get Clausen on the ground at least a few times, either.

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