When Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt watches Connecticut's defense on film he sees a unit that is similar to his defense.
The Panthers (8-3, 4-2 Big East) play at Connecticut (7-4, 3-3) tomorrow, and Wannstedt said a key matchup will be Pitt's offensive line against the Huskies defensive front seven, and more specifically their front four.
Connecticut is tied with Cincinnati with a Big East-best 30 quarterbacks sacks. The Huskies total is impressive because they don't blitz a lot and instead rely on their front four to put pressure on the quarterback.
Wannstedt said he knows how difficult blocking a front like Connecticut's can be because he has built similar defensive fronts his entire career. He said the Huskies are undersized but athletic and quick off the ball.
- Game: No. 23 Pitt (8-3) vs. Connecticut (7-4), noon.
- Where: Rentschler Field, Storrs, Conn.
- TV: ESPN.
"They don't do a whole lot of things different than what we do," Wannstedt said. "They rush four and do a nice job up front. They'll do a little bit of pressure stuff with the linebackers but not a ton. They've got four-down linemen that I remember watching through the course of last year that have the same philosophy that we have.
"The one defensive end was a linebacker who put his hand on the ground. The one starting defensive tackle was a defensive end and they moved him inside. They're trying to put as much speed on the field as they can."
The Panthers can pick up a few extra tips about how to attack the Huskies by watching film -- of their own team.
"I think if you're a 4-3 [defensive scheme] team as we are, and they are, you have a tendency to study each other on tape," Wannstedt said.
"You look at what was good and bad and how the opponent tried attacking you. There were some things that we did different and we'll do different this week. Some of it is ability too.
"They've got some younger guys on the inside and experience on the ends. Our experience is inside with our tackles and Scott [McKillop] and a little bit more inexperience at the linebacker position."
The Huskies own a 3-1 series edge against the Panthers and have won the past two games. They have never lost to the Panthers at Connecticut's Rentschler Field.
Last year the Huskies pounded the Panthers, 34-14, at Heinz Field. Pitt's offensive front couldn't handle Connecticut's front seven. Connecticut had three quarterback sacks, forced six turnovers and allowed the Panthers to run for only 72 yards. Pitt was only 4 for 17 on third downs.
Pitt's offensive linemen remember that game well and understand they have a big challenge tomorrow, particularly in trying to create rush lanes for tailback LeSean McCoy. The Huskies are allowing only 119.6 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry.
The offensive line had an excellent day in the 19-15 win over West Virginia. McCoy ran for 183 yards and two touchdowns. It is an effort the Panthers know they will need to duplicate this week in order to beat the Huskies.
"We felt very comfortable running the ball [against West Virginia] and we knew if we were going to win, we'd have to go out there and pound it down their throats," junior guard John Malecki said. "That was our thought process and that's what we did, so it was a good feeling. We always want to run the ball, that is what we do.
"We know they are a good defense, they like to stack the box and stop the run so we are going to try to do what we do -- go out and run the ball. They are tenacious, they are relentless, so we have to try and out-effort them and make sure we don't get beat in the little things."
"They do a great job," Pitt center C.J. Davis added. "They always make sure they have eight down in the box and their defensive line does a great job of getting our leverage points out of whack. They've been great all year. They are one of the best teams at getting off blocks and getting off blocks late and shutting down the cutback lanes.
"We are definitely going to have to keep blocking until the whistle because they won't stop. This will be the hardest game, the most physical game we've played all season."
By Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720