Pitt, Miami mirror one another


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Pitt's first two opponents played a dramatically different style of football than the Panthers.

That meant there was no way for a pro-style team like the Panthers to simulate the spread offense and funky defenses employed by Utah and New Hampshire in practice because nothing they did was similar to what Pitt does.

But Pitt (1-1) had no such problems preparing for Miami because the Hurricanes (1-1), who invade Heinz Field tonight for a nationally televised game, mirror the Panthers offensively and defensively.

There is good reason for that -- Miami's coach, Randy Shannon and Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt have a long history together and share many of the same philosophies.

"When you look at Miami's football team -- when you look at what they do on offense, defense and special teams -- you see some very similar characteristics to our team," Wannstedt said.


Today

Game: Pitt (1-1) vs No. 19 Miami (1-1), 7:30 p.m. today, Heinz Field. Miami is favored by 3 1/2 points.

TV, radio: ESPN; KDKA-FM (93.7).

Pitt: Is 63-66-2 in games against current members of the ACC. ... Last played host to an ACC team in 2006. Pitt won that night, 38-13, against Virginia. ... The Panthers are 6-9 in those games. ... Is 21-8 in its past 29 games. ... Has lost three of past four games against Division I-A competition. ... Four of past five losses have been by three points or less.

Miami: Coming off 36-24 loss against Ohio State. ... Leads the all-time series with the Panthers, 21-9-1, and has not lost to Pitt since 1997. ... Returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown against the Buckeyes. ... Coach Randy Shannon is a former Miami player who played under Dave Wannstedt, then the Hurricanes' defensive coordinator.

Of note: Through two games Miami has 25 tackles for loss and nine sacks.


"Randy Shannon and I go way back; I think you all know that. I was part of the staff that recruited him out of high school. I coached him for his whole college career. We drafted him at the [Dallas] Cowboys, I hired him at the [Miami] Dolphins. I was responsible, or a big part of him getting the coordinator job at the University of Miami when he left me at the Dolphins to go back there.

"Randy and I have had a long association since his high school days. He comes from a very similar philosophy background as mine, and you see that when you watch them play."

Wannstedt, Miami's defensive coordinator, recruited Shannon, a Miami native and a linebacker for the Hurricanes, in 1984. Three years later, Shannon played a major role in a defense that led the Hurricanes to the national championship.

Shannon then played for the Cowboys for two years under Wannstedt and was linebackers coach for the Dolphins under Wannstedt in 2000 before becoming the Hurricanes' defensive coordinator in 2001.

Both men acknowledge their friendship will be put aside for the game, but both also made it clear they are and always will be good friends. It is no secret they both believe in the same things when it comes to football.

"Randy and I talk often," Wannstedt said. "We talk about everything, not just football, he is a good friend and an excellent football coach. I think the job he has done down there is outstanding."

Shannon said he expects the game to be very physical because both teams have been schooled in the same brand of hard-knocks football.

"The game will be a very physical game, knowing Dave Wannstedt for a long time," Shannon said. "He is a very close friend of mine, I've spent a lot of time with him, and his teams are always going to be very physically tough and play bend-but-don't-break defense, so that makes it exciting."

Shannon said Wannstedt has been an important mentor and is still a person that he can confide in and seek advice from.

Wannstedt's influence on Shannon is easy to see, particularly on defense where both teams play a 4-3 and rely on their line to pressure quarterbacks without blitzes.

That's why both teams have been built around dominant defensive lines and why both are considered a bit of a throwback.

Offensively, the Hurricanes also are similar to the Panthers, operating a pro-style offense with several formations that use both tight ends and a fullback.

"They aren't going to try and trick you, and neither are we," Wannstedt said. "If you look at how they play, they do so many of the same things we do that this game is likely going to come down to a battle of wills and, of course, who makes the least mistakes, be it penalties or turnovers."

There are other ties to Pittsburgh and the two universities.

Miami's third-string quarterback, Spencer Whipple, is from Pine-Richland High School and spent a year as a walk-on for the Panthers. Pitt offensive line coach Tony Wise was on the staff at Miami, and Pitt linebackers coach Bernard Clark was Shannon's teammate at Miami and remains one of his best friends.

Clark said while there won't be many surprises, emotions will run high among the coaches.

"Absolutely, [it is extra emotional]," Clark said.

"Going against my old team brings out a little more emotion in me and probably in the players, too, because they see it in me. Randy and I talk all the time, we're good friends, but I told him I would talk to him after Sept. 23.

"But he has the same kind of mentality as we do -- get after it, be aggressive and don't make mistakes and just play mistake-free, tough-guy football, and his team will play hard and give great effort.

"That mentality is there, and you see it out of them as well as us, but that's because all of us are products of Dave Wannstedt. We all played under him."

Wannstedt warned that both teams will have at least a few new wrinkles.

Wannstedt drew a bottom line.

"It is going to take a great effort from our players to win this game because they are clearly as good as any team we're going to play this year and likely are better from a personnel standpoint than just about all of them."


NOTES -- Running back Jeremiah Bryson from Smyrna (Tenn.) made a verbal commitment Wednesday to Pitt. Bryson, 5 feet 8, 180 pounds, chose the Panthers over offers from North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland and Memphis. He has rushed 61 times for 490 yards and four touchdowns this season and his team is 5-0. He is the 18th player from the class of 2011 to commit to the Panthers.


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


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