Bennett: Sleep is not an option

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Coffee, cold drinks and nearly anything else with caffeine in it has been Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's best friend this week as he tries to prepare the Panthers' defense to slow down Navy's triple-option attack Saturday.

According to Bennett, his lack of sleep is not unique among defensive coordinators preparing for the Midshipmen because they are so proficient in what they do and have some degree of success against every defense they face.

"I don't sleep. I got here early, and I'm as wired as can be," Bennett said.

"I was talking to [Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin, and he asked me if they're still running the 'Mid-9 Follow,' [and] he remembered it from his days [in college]. It is a brutal offense for guys on their legs, and what they've done this year is change the rule to where they can chop everybody in the front seven in a five-yard space."

  • Game: Pitt (2-0) vs. Navy (1-1), 6 p.m. Saturday.
  • TV: CSTV.

Although the Midshipmen, who will visit Heinz Field at 6 p.m. Saturday, will cause any defensive coordinator some sleepless nights, it is especially true for Bennett, considering the Panthers' performance last Saturday at Buffalo.

Pitt won, 54-27, but the Bulls gained 500 yards, including 433 yards through the air.

The Panthers' secondary missed a bundle of tackles, but the defensive line missed some sacks and, while the outside linebackers made some big plays, they also missed some tackles.

Bennett said that after reviewing the tape of the Buffalo game he was encouraged and discouraged. He said the first half was terrible, but even then it was only a few bad plays. The second half was much better, he noted, and that was something to build on.

But he knows the Panthers can't take any plays off against the Midshipmen, who average 238 yards rushing and hold the ball for about 35 minutes per game.

"It would be a bad game to [miss a lot of tackles]," Bennett said. "But we were feast or famine against Buffalo, really.

"We were either really good or really bad. I mean we had four plays -- they had the two screens that were for 110 yards and the two bender routes that were for 104 yards.

"So, that's four plays really where, I told our safeties, we could make those in our sleep, and we do that every day against our offense in practice. But right after the half we got a three-and-out and they didn't score in the third quarter, so from that aspect we did a good job of buckling down."

The Midshipmen will present a different kind of challenge than Buffalo because their offense is so unique in college football.

The Panthers do not play another triple-option team, will not play another team that cut blocks at the line of scrimmage and will not play another team that will go for it on fourth down nearly every time it is fourth-and-short.

That means they have about three days of practice to prepare for an offense which has proven it can be effective, regardless of how much size and athletic talent the defense has to work with.

Two years ago, the Midshipmen beat Pitt in overtime at Heinz Field, 48-45, and generally ran roughshod over the Panthers.

Last season, the Panthers tightened up on defense and won, 42-21.

Bennett said Navy's passing game is much improved from a year ago thanks to quarterback Ricky Dobbs, and that makes them more dangerous. As a result, he does not think it will be easy to repeat the Panthers' defensive performance of a year ago against Navy.

"You see some things that you did well, but you can't do the same thing as the last time," Bennett said.

"They create matchups, and you've got to see where they've got them. And you go from there, but we'll have some new wrinkles for them, too.

"The thing that I've noticed from them is that their quarterback, without question, is probably a more accurate thrower than what they've had at the position."

NOTES -- Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said wide receiver Mike Shanahan (hand) is close to returning and may be able to dress this week. ... Cornerback Buddy Jackson (jaw) is back in pads at practice, but still a week or two from being ready for full contact.

Paul Zeise can be reached at or 412-263-1720.


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