Pitt's defense can't afford another 'bad day'

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Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt knows the Panthers' defense wasn't stellar Saturday in the 54-27 victory against Buffalo, but he is not ready to press the panic button.

Though he said after watching film he found that nearly every big play the Bulls made was a result of a mental breakdown by Pitt's defense, those things are easily correctable. And the Panthers must correct them before Saturday when they play host to Navy given the Midshipmen's precision and efficiency on offense.

"The big plays on defense, one we were going for an interception, the other one we took a couple bad angles, missed a couple tackles," Wannstedt said at his weekly news conference. "Really, there was nothing that happened there, that I don't think can't be corrected quickly. So, from that standpoint, we addressed it, looked at the tape and went out and practiced [Sunday] night."

The Panthers (2-0) gave up 500 yards to the Bulls' offense, including 433 through the air, but according to Wannstedt his defense just had a bad day. He doesn't expect it to happen again.

The unit will work on tackling this week but Wannstedt said it also didn't play with enough intensity and physicality. But he pointed out that while the defense gave up big plays, it made a few, too.

"If you stand back and look at it, the defense created a fumble at the 8-yard line coming out and caused a fumble," Wannstedt said. "We then went in for a score. Elijah Fields' interception, that was run down to the 2; partially, that's two defensive scores right there.

"And we did miss two sacks. We've got to get that done. When the opportunities are there, you've got to get him on the ground."

Navy (1-1) will present a different challenge for the Panthers' defense than Buffalo because the Midshipmen are one of a few teams that run a triple-option (variations include the flexbone and the wishbone) offense. The offense is run-heavy though Wannstedt pointed out Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs is a better passer than past Midshipmen quarterbacks have been.

And the Midshipmen are well-coached and have an offense designed to make defenses pay for over-pursuing plays, missing tackles and not being disciplined.

Pitt middle linebacker Adam Gunn said the Panthers' defense can't have a day like it did again, especially on Saturday because the team found out the hard way a couple of years ago just how tough the Midshipmen can be to stop.

"We didn't stop them one time, they just ran all over us," Gunn said of Navy's 48-45 victory against the Panthers two years ago. "We did a little bit better last year when we beat them but the thing is, if you make a mistake, it turns a 5-yard run into a touchdown. We better tackle, we better be where we are supposed to be and we better communicate with each other or it will be a very long night."

NOTES -- Wannstedt said that Fields will start in place of free safety Andrew Taglianetti, who is out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. "Opportunities come in different ways and at different times for individuals. [Fields'] is now," Wannstedt said. ... Pitt was one of the least penalized teams last year but Saturday against Buffalo, the Panthers had 11 penalties for 119 yards. "The penalties we had, those are things that players need to understand how costly they are, and costly they could have been," Wannstedt said. ... Gunn was named the Big East player of the week after posting 11 tackles and three sacks against Buffalo. Though he said he was honored, he admitted he was not happy with the way the defense performed and thus could not fully enjoy the award. "Any individual award is a team award and frankly I don't know that we as a defense earned it this week," Gunn said. "And that includes me because I'm supposed to be the leader. I'm happy to be recognized and I'm glad we won, but we all have a lot of work to do." ... Senior tight end Nate Byham didn't have a catch for the second game in a row but Wannstedt insists he remains a big part of the offense. "It may be this week that he gets eight catches," Wannstedt said. ... Kicker Dan Hutchins missed two extra points. Wannstedt said one was the result of a bad snap. "He needs to be more consistent," Wannstedt said. "He knows he can make those and he will."

Paul Zeise can be reached at pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720. First Published September 15, 2009 4:00 AM


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