Wannstedt: We're Up For The Challenge

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt

There's been a lot of heat on Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt, the defense, coordinator Phil Bennett and the secondary in particular this week after Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel and his low-rated offense torched the Panthers for six touchdown passes this past Saturday.

Many believe the Scarlet Knights gave future opponents a blueprint on how to beat Pittsburgh (5-2), which faces Notre Dame (5-2) in a nationally-televised game Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in South Bend, Ind. And Wannstedt practically invited the Fighting Irish to air it out against the Panthers.

"We'll find out,'' Wannstedt said, "because the way this game works ... we're prepared to face that type of offense again and again. That's fine. If they want to throw it up, I've got a lot of confidence in Berry and Jovani and DeCicco. Our guys back there will make plays. They'll be up for challenge, but we expect that. And I'd be disappointed if they didn't do that.''

Pitt's junior cornerbacks, Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel, fifth-year senior free safety Eric Thatcher and sophomore strong safety Dom DeCicco had a rough afternoon to say the least. Berry, in particular, likely had his worst performance on a football field. Especially when his fumbled punt return is factored in.

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Ricky Gary, redshirt sophomore safety Elijah Fields, freshman cornerback Antwuan Reed and redshirt junior safety Irvan Brown have also seen some action, but don't expect wholesale changes for Notre Dame. Although, with the way the Irish use the no-huddle with an empty backfield, they might all be on the field at the same time.

"For us, we're facing a challenge,'' Bennett said. "Let's not kid ourselves. We're facing a team that's capable of a big game, but we've just got to help our players as coaches, and they've got to make them when we put them in position to make plays. (But) if (Tuesday's) practice is any indication, we had a real sense of urgency that I believe was missing Saturday.

"So, I'm confident that we'll come out and play with a much stronger sense of urgency than (against Rutgers). Time will tell, but the plays they made on us are very correctable. ... Obviously, when you give up four plays (for 201) yards and 28 points, it kept us from having a chance to win. And that was extremely disappointing. It's inexcusable by the players, and it's inexcusable by me.''

Four of Teel's six TD passes were for 60, 79, 36 and 26 yards, but Bennett did not believe there was anything schematically that Pitt could have done differently. There were just fundamental errors that the Panthers made.

"I just think it was a well-executed game plan by Rutgers, and our secondary didn't cover well enough to let our guys up front put any pressure on their quarterback,'' Thatcher said. "That was all on us in the secondary.

"So, we have to get back (to practice) and work on our one-on-ones and get our swagger back on covering people. (But) it was just one of those days. You never know what's going to happen, and that just wasn't a good day for us. ... I think we put that behind us now, and we're looking forward to Notre Dame.

"But it really was only four plays that killed us,'' Thatcher added. "Other than that, we covered them pretty well. It didn't look as bad (on tape) that it did from the stands. We were in position, but we just didn't make enough plays.''

Thatcher and Bennett both noted that Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen has a cannon arm, and he's becoming more precise with his passes. Clausen has completed nearly 61 percent for 1,832 yards and 15 touchdowns with just nine interceptions.

Sophomore Golden Tate (18.2 yards per catch) and freshman Michael Floyd (17.2) are Clausen's top targets with 31 catches each for four and five scores, respectively. The leading rusher is sophomore Armando Allen with 360 yards (4.7) and two scores. Allen and Tate also are kickoff and punt returners.

"If I had to guess, (Notre Dame is) going to try to mimic what Rutgers did against us,'' fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop said. "If it worked last week, why not try it this week. So, it's a challenge for our defense as a whole to create more pressure up front and cover better in the secondary.

"I really wouldn't say we've done anything different this week, but coming off that last game we're trying to practice better than what we did last week. We have to correct the mistakes we had against Rutgers, because we know that teams are going to see what happened in that game and try to do the same things to us. So, we'll have to be ready for that again.''

And as far as Wannstedt is concerned, bring it on Notre Dame.

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