Pitt has no other option than to stop Navy’s run game

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Pitt’s offensive scout team took on a bit of a different look at practice Tuesday.

These players, tasked with preparing the Panthers defense for the plays and schemes of their opponent that week, spent most of the day going at defenders’ knees with cut blocks.

The goal is to ready the defense for what it’s going to see the next two weeks against triple-option offenses Navy and Georgia Tech, both of which employ cut blocks extensively to run their unique offense.

“They don’t want to hurt us, but they also know they have to get us better,” defensive end Bryan Murphy said of the scout team. “They’re doing a great job. They were coming after us like I’ve never seen before.”

For most teams, preparing for a triple-option offense is a one-week diversion from their usual game plans. The Panthers, though, will face similar attacks in back-to-back weeks. Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson perfected his system as Navy’s head coach from 2002-07 before bringing it to the Yellow Jackets.

Facing back-to-back option teams should allow Pitt to get comfortable facing a scheme it doesn’t usually see.

“It depends how we play,” coach Paul Chryst said with a smile when asked if he thought it was an advantage playing the two triple-option teams back-to-back.

“The next two weeks are totally different than what we saw earlier. I feel good about our guys and we spent some time in camp on it. Our guys should have a good idea of what to expect to face on Saturday.”

The Midshipmen offense also will be a stark change from the pass-heavy Old Dominion attack Pitt saw last week. While the Monarchs have passed the ball on 57 percent of their offensive plays this season, Navy runs the ball 83 percent of the time.

That means a much more physical game for Pitt.

“They’re strictly option, pound it right up the middle,” Murphy said. “We have to be very disciplined in our keys. We can’t make any mistakes. If we make any mistakes, one person doesn’t cover their man, then they could hit us for a big run and we’d be in trouble.”

The Panthers got a slight taste of the option earlier this season against New Mexico Sept. 14. The Lobos run more of a pistol-option offense rather than the traditional triple-option, which rarely puts the ball in the air.

The main concepts carry over, though. Each defender is responsible for knowing his assignment and sticking to it. One missed read or overcorrection could leave a runner open for a long gain.

Murphy said his specific responsibility can change from play to play. Sometimes he’s responsible for the fullback, other times the quarterback or the pitch man.

“Everyone knows Navy’s a physical team,” Murphy said. “We’ve been pounding out there and just getting ready for the speed. It happens so quick. You have to be right on everything. Hopefully, I think we should be all right.”

Even if the defenders are sharp mentally, they still have to deal with the unique challenge of Navy’s cut-blocking scheme. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said he doesn’t think cut blocks cause an undue amount of injuries.

Chryst said they would make the cut blocks “as real as possible” in practice this week.

“You just have to keep your hands down,” Murphy said. “You have to play with your hands a lot. A lot of people play with their eyes, they don’t have their hands out. You have to just play off of them with your hands, keep your feet back, stay square to the line and you’ll be good."

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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