Florida State poses many problems for Pitt in opener

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Any season opener is accompanied by uncertainty. Neither team has played a game in eight months, and both will be working in first-time starters with their returning veterans.

The Florida State team Pitt will face Monday night at Heinz Field, though, might be a bit more unpredictable than most.

The Panthers face the unique challenge of preparing for a Seminoles squad that will have a redshirt freshman starting quarterback and a re-shaken defense, two factors that can make game preparation a little bit harder.

"I think, obviously, there's certain challenges with it," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said Wednesday on an Atlantic Coast Conference coaches conference call.

"You try to do the best you can. I still think, obviously, the opponent matters, what they're doing, and you want your kids to be prepared, but I still think a lot of football is trying to work on it and prepare yourself for the things that you can control."

Pitt must stop Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, who was named the starter by coach Jimbo Fisher last week. Winston was Rivals.com's No. 1 quarterback in the 2012 class and has the potential to be a superstar .

From Pitt's perspective, Winston's lack of experience also means there's no game tape from which to study his tendencies. They can watch Florida State's spring game, and defensive end Bryan Murphy said the Panthers have tried to compare Winston to other mobile quarterbacks they have seen in the past. In practices, he usually is represented on the scout team by a wide receiver.

"We've just got to come out, hit him in the mouth as soon as we can," Murphy said. "Show him we're here, we're not messing around."

The Panthers struggled containing such quarterbacks in 2012, but linebacker Shane Gordon said increased depth -- the Panthers could play as many as 20 players on defense -- should help Monday night.

"We've just got depth," Gordon said. "So, if guys get tired, we've got guys ready to go and fresh."

The Panthers offense must prepare for a Florida State defense in transition. The Seminoles played a 4-3 in 2012, but, under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, likely are using more of a 3-4 look.

Tight end J.P. Holtz said Pitt has prepared by studying tape of Alabama's defense because Pruitt was the Crimson Tide's defensive backs coach the past three seasons.

The Seminoles must replace eight starters on defense, but Fisher was quick to note that the "new starters" are players who have seen plenty of playing time as reserves.

"We may add a few new wrinkles, but we are not overhauling our defense," Fisher said.

Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said he is not sure what to expect scheme-wise, but knew one thing: Their defense will have many talented players.

"I think you've just got to be prepared for it all, which is hard," Rudolph said. "It's hard with the prep when you're not sure what you're going to see. You do your best to try and figure those things out, but you've got the kids prepared for anything."

NOTES -- Rudolph said Pitt running back Isaac Bennett was "doing a little bit more every day," but wasn't sure of his availability for the opener. Bennett was limited in practice Wednesday. Running back James Conner, Bennett's backup, also is questionable for the opener. "Right now, I think it's certainly going to be a bit of a running back by committee," Chryst said. ... The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia announced that they will sell limited edition commemorative footballs to celebrate Pitt's entrance to the ACC. The footballs can be purchased by calling 1-800-345-2868 or visiting the website www.nikcosports.com.


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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