Dan Mason has been named the Big East Conference's defensive player of the week for his performance in the Panthers' 27-14 victory over Navy this past Saturday night.
"With these freshmen, you really never know how they're going to respond when they're in a game, and it's meaningful,'' Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said. "You know, some guys look good in practice, and they've got all the answers on the board in the meeting room.
"But when it actually happens, they're not ready. This guy's ready. You've been following us all through training camp, (and) nothing happened Saturday on the field that hasn't happened in every scrimmage that we've had and in every practice. He's a leader, and he's got a lot of ability.''
In the first starting assignment, Mason collected a team-best 11 tackles and two quarterback sacks to lead an outstanding defensive effort against Navy's dangerous triple-option attack. But don't expect Pitt's lineup to change anytime soon to get Mason more playing time.
"Right now, nothing's changing,'' Wannstedt noted. "Max Gruder and Greg Williams are the starters outside. We'll see where Adam Gunn's health is and how that plays out.
"Max Gruder and Greg Williams both are playing pretty well, too. Max played his best ball game against Navy. He's going back home. He's from North Carolina, so this is an important game for him. It's exciting.''
The Panthers (3-0) held the Midshipmen to just 129 yards rushing -- 109 yards less than their average. Navy, the NCAA's team rushing champion the past four seasons, could only muster 218 yards in total offense against Pitt.
"They do a lot of different things,'' Mason said. "We had to work really hard to prepare for these guys, but I think we did a very good job. It was a tremendous overall effort by our defense to hold these guys down.''
Mason replaced injured sixth-year senior Adam Gunn (ankle) in the starting lineup. Gunn, interestingly enough, was named Big East defensive player of the week just seven days ago for his 11-tackle performance at Buffalo.
A high school All-American at Penn Hills, Mason has made an impressive transition to the collegiate level. Through three games, he ranks third on the team in both tackles (16) and sacks (two). Gunn remains the team's leading tackle with 19 total, including 13 solo, and five sacks in just two games.
"I'm getting better every day,'' Gunn said. "So, I hope to be back this week.''
Pitt puts its undefeated record on the line at North Carolina State (2-1) Saturday. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and be nationally televised by ESPNU, now widely available to Comcast subscribers throughout the region.
Pitt and the Wolfpack last met in the 2001 Tangerine Bowl, when the Panthers won, 34-19. N.C. State was led by quarterback Philip Rivers. This will be Pitt's first visit to Raleigh since 1988.
To say that Dan Mason was fired up for his first start against Navy Saturday would be an…