Pitt: Defensive line adjusts in absence of Romeus

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The defensive line returned to form in Pitt's 38-16 win against New Hampshire but the offensive line is still a work in progress, coach Dave Wannstedt said.

As long as the offensive line and the run game struggle, the Panthers' defense will have to keep the team in games to give them a chance to win.

That's just fine with defensive players because they believe the unit can be much more dominant.

"We know we didn't get the job done against Utah," said Pitt defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who had one of the Panthers' six sacks Saturday against New Hampshire. "We just want to get it right and not feel like we let the team down. I think what you saw [Saturday] was closer to what we had in mind and what is expected of us but even still, we can get a lot better.

"We started off slow but I think we got back into it and now we are going to build on how we played."

The Panthers' defensive linemen accounted for all of the Panthers' six sacks, including three by defensive tackle Chas Alecxih.

The Panthers were successful against a I-AA offensive line, using five players at tackle and four defensive ends.

The Panthers' defensive line did it all without the services of All-Big East end Greg Romeus, who has been bothered by back problems. He missed the New Hampshire game to return to his home in Florida because of a family matter.

Romeus missed most of camp with a back injury which was described as "stiffness." He was in the lineup for the opener against Utah and played most of the game.

However, he was not fully healthy, Pitt coaches said, and the Panthers could be facing the prospects of playing an extended period of time without him

Sheard said Romeus is the heart of the defense but noted that Brandon Lindsey, who started in Romeus' place, is an excellent pass rusher and showed his ability in Saturday's game.

"We know we have to step it up without Greg," Sheard said. "We are definitely going to miss Greg, we will definitely miss him because he is a leader, he pushes all of us and he's a great player. But guys like Brandon and Nate Nix stepped up and made a lot of plays.

"I know Greg is happy at home watching this game but we'll be fine without him until he gets back. Brandon is a great pass rusher, he is actually probably faster than Greg, and we saw that last year against Syracuse and I hope that he continues to play at a high level."

Although the defensive line flourished against New Hampshire, the offensive line had its share of struggles and at times seemed to be pushed around by the Wildcats' defensive front.

The Panthers struggled to run the ball and turned to quick passes and screen plays.

Starting tailback Dion Lewis had his worst day as a Panther, only 10 carries for 27 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown run was mostly his effort because he was met by a wall of New Hampshire defenders and had to break tackles to get into the end zone.

The situation was made worse when starting left guard Chris Jacobson twisted his ankle and was replaced by Ryan Turnley, who has very little playing experience.

Left tackle Jason Pinkston said the offensive line got better as the game went on and the Panthers wore down New Hampshire. Ray Graham, Lewis' backup, broke some nice runs in the second half, including a 64-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.

Pinkston said the Panthers will continue to get better as the season progresses and are committed to being a power-running team.

"We know teams are going to stack the box and make us come out and pass a little bit, which I thought we did today," Pinkston said. "We weren't concerned about our running game early on. It's a four-quarter game. We need to take things one play at a time. It might go 3 yards here, 4 yards there and the next play could be 80 yards. We stick to our game plan and what we do well and don't get worried."

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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