Rutgers defense will pose problems
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Pitt football coach Todd Graham has installed an aggressive defensive scheme whose goal is to dictate to opposing offenses instead of one that reacts to what offenses are doing.
That's how the Panthers (3-2, 1-0 Big East) play defense, and it also is the way Rutgers (3-1, 1-0) will play defense Saturday afternoon when it faces Pitt. Graham said he knows both offenses will have to be extremely focused to avoid making game-changing mistakes and turnovers.
Both teams have some inexperienced players in the offensive line, and, in Rutgers' case, quarterback issues. This game could be dictated by defensive pressure, given the blitzing and attacking nature of both teams.
"They are No. 1 in the country in turnover ratio," said Graham at his weekly news conference Monday. "We are going to see a lot of blitzing, a lot of pressure -- they make a lot of things happen on defense, especially forcing mistakes by the offense, so we are going to have to be very disciplined in what we are doing, especially on the road.
"They are going to blitz and attack and even more so, I would think, [because of] the fact that we have a lot of newcomers up front. But we have to prepare our guys. It will be a more of a challenge because of all of the different things we will see."
Graham said the Panthers are likely to have three first-year offensive line starters with center Ryan Turnley and guards Ryan Schlieper and Cory King.
In Schlieper's case, he would be making his first career start unless Lucas Nix's injured knee improves.
The three newcomers played together in the final three quarters of the victory against South Florida. While they got some experience as a unit, this is a different test. The Bulls mostly rushed four players, but the Scarlet Knights will attack the offensive front from several angles.
Graham said the offensive line should be ready for what the Scarlet Knights throw at them because they have seen some of it from their own defense in camp and practices.
"I really like what Rutgers does defensively," Graham said. "They have a really good system in place. They have re-configured their defense to create more speed. They are going to force the issue. I like what they do, and it is probably similar to what we're trying to do."
Although Pitt could have its hands full with Rutgers defensive front, the defense could give the Scarlet Knights offense fits. The Scarlet Knights offensive line is an inexperienced unit that has struggled at times.
It includes two freshmen starters and two sophomore starters in the interior and a sophomore tight end. Though the unit played well in a 38-26 victory Sept. 24 against Ohio, it had trouble with Syracuse's defensive front Saturday, a game Rutgers eventually won, 19-16 in double overtime.
Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano said yesterday at his news conference that the Orange challenged the Rutgers offensive line with more blitzes and pressure than the Bobcats, and the unit's inexperience was easy to see by the number of mental mistakes they committed.
But he said he hopes that experience will help them this week against Pitt.
"We kind of knew where [the defensive front] was going to be in the Ohio game, and, to a young player, that's a lot easier [to prepare for]," Schiano said. "[Against Syracuse,] they were doing a lot of things that test the mental as well as the physical for those guys. I think it might have gotten a little big for the younger guys, a little too much for the younger guys.
"Now it's a great experience to win the game and get that experience under their belt. But there are growing pains for sure."
Rutgers' offensive problems, at least this week, are compounded by a brewing quarterback controversy. Neither of its quarterbacks -- sophomore Chas Dodd or freshman Gary Nova -- has distinguished himself.
Schiano would not commit to either Monday, saying he will watch practice this week before determining the starter.
"I haven't made a decision about [the starting quarterback]," Schiano said. "I'll make a decision when I'm ready to make it. I don't know when that's going to be. We've played both in three of the four games.
"So, we'll make a decision, but I probably won't go public with the decision, either way, till kickoff."
NOTES -- Ray Graham was named Big East offensive player of the week for his performance in the 44-17 victory against South Florida. Graham rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries against the Bulls. He added four receptions for 42 yards and two kick returns for 35, giving him 303 all-purpose yards. ... Two Rutgers players -- linebacker Steve Beauharnais (defense) and Jamal Merrell (special teams) -- also were named players of the week by the Big East. Merrell blocked two kicks against Syracuse. . ... The Pitt-Utah game Oct. 15 at Heinz Field will be nationally televised by ESPNU and begin at noon. ... Four members of the Rutgers coaching staff were Pitt assistants last year under Dave Wannstedt. They are offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, tight ends coach Brian Angelichio, defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley and Matt Dudek, who works in football operations. Andrew Janocko, a backup quarterback with the Panthers, is an offensive graduate assistant.
First Published October 4, 2011 12:00 am