Pitt defense showing its mettle

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Pitt's offense has garnered a lot of the attention in the team's recent turnaround, and with 1,163 yards over the past two games, why not?

Meanwhile, the defense has undergone a similar transformation since the Panthers started the season 0-2. In wins against Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb, Pitt's defense has allowed an average of 225.5 yards per game, nearly half of the 422.5 per game it gave up in the first two.

"It's a work in progress, but the guys have been working really hard, and they're staying very, very positive and upbeat," defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said. "They're giving us everything they've got. We're nowhere [near] where we want to be yet, not even close, but we're just going to continue to work hard as a coaching staff and as a group of players."

The most common refrain coming from Huxtable as well as defensive players is that players have simply understood and executed their assignments better in the past two games. The Panthers were not physically dominated in the first two games, they just weren't where they were supposed to be.

Those mistakes are particularly evident on plays such as the 58-yard touchdown run by Cincinnati's George Winn on the Bearcats' first play three weeks ago. If a linebacker had been there to fill the hole, Winn could have been stopped for a minimal gain.

"You take some of those snaps from the first couple of games and we were out of position," Huxtable said. "Same play in the last couple of games and, by golly, we're in position. We're just going to continue to work to get better and be more accountable."

Huxtable credited three areas his unit has improved in the past two games: Hitting its assignments, playing with energy and running to the football. All three come together to create a successful defense.

"I like the energy a lot better," he said. "The guys have had a great look in their eyes the last couple of games. Now, why wasn't that in the first two games? I don't know. But I really like the look in the eyes the last couple of games."

The run defense, in particular, has showed its mettle in the two victories. Two weeks ago, the Panthers ranked 106th in Division I-A with 231.5 running yards allowed per game. Now, they're 52nd, with 138.5 yards allowed per game.

"That's all physical," linebacker Shane Gordon said. "When they throw the ball with little routes and stuff, try and outsmart you, beat a zone or beat man coverage, whatever. Running, they're pretty much lining up and saying we're stronger than you. We take it personally to stop the run."

That ability to stop the run has led to increased confidence in the defense over the past few games. Huxtable said he likes to see that - to an extent.

"I talk about having a confidence swagger, not a stupid cockiness, and I think they're starting to get that confidence swag a little bit," Huxtable said. "And I want them to have that, I think that's a positive thing."


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published September 27, 2012 4:00 AM


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