Stopping The Spread Comes First

Dan Mason

Regardless of who the opponent is, Pitt's defense will be challenged constantly this year, in stopping different variations of the spread. Utah and New Hampshire run different forms of the spread, and in some ways, what New Hampshire runs, poses some different challenges.

Pitt faces a combination of three pressures heading into this game with New Hampshire Saturday. For one, it's Pitt's home-opener. Two, the Panthers will look to even their record at 1-1, after losing a heartbreaking opener at Utah. To get through that, and come up with a win, the Panthers must not overlook a New Hampshire team that has won four games over the last four seasons against an FBS opponent.

Dave Wannstedt's response is simple. Win, or else. Pitt does not want to treat this game with New Hampshire as an easy-rebound game. Luckily, New Hampshire happens to a be a pretty good team that runs a spread offense, that is difficult to defend.

"We're focused, and we better be," Wannstedt added. "Right now, we have to get a win. We have to correct the things that we did not do well enough to win last week."

One of those things, will be defending the spread. Pitt is likely to see the spread every week. It may not be Utah, but the way New Hampshire runs its spread provides different challenges. Even though it was running back Dontra Peters that rushed for 197 yards in the opening win for the Wildcats, everything starts with quarterback R.J. Tomas--a player considered to be equally dangerous through the air as he is on the ground, even though he threw for just 84 yards last week in the win over Central Connecticut State.

"They're a little more spread option quarterback type team than what Utah was," Wannstedt said. "They'll run a triple-type option."

One group, who Wannstedt feels will need to make plays this week is the linebackers. Utah did a good job of getting the ball to receivers once they were underneath the linebackers. Wannstedt calls this theory, just one of the basic reasons of why this type of offense is called the spread.

"That's the whole theory behind it--spread you out, get (the linebackers) matched up one-on-one, on skilled guys," Wannstedt added. "We'll see if they're athletic enough to make plays."

After watching film of the Utah game, it wasn't about the linebackers being out of position, as much as it was them missing tackles. If they improve upon that, Wannstedt feels the defense has a chance to be successful against New Hampshire.

"The only time we gave up plays, underneath, is when we missed tackles," Wannstedt said. "Max Gruder went to knock the ball down and missed. He kind of got across the field. Danny Mason let a guy get underneath him, one time, and made two or three really good plays too.

"I thought overall our linebackers were solid, for seeing that type of offense. We'll get better this week, with more reps at it. That's the type of offense we're going to see most of the year."

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