IrishEyes examines the Panthers' key defensive personnel for Saturday's matchup under the lights.
Mick On A Mission
"Mick is a character, a guy who's loud, but who tries to get everybody on the same page as him,'' Sheard said. "When we're in the huddle, he'll say: 'I don't know who else is going to be back there (in the backfield).
" 'So, you can meet me back there or not.' That's Mick for you. He's one of the fastest D-linemen that you'll find. He's like a D-end at tackle, and it's a lot of fun playing beside him. It's crazy.''
Despite being listed at 6-foot-1 and 290 pounds, Williams probably isn't close to being that tall, but he plays much bigger. He's fast, strong and incredibly athletic. And there's good reason for him to make a final mark on the 102nd Backyard Brawl, as No. 8 Pittsburgh (9-1) faces West Virginia Friday at 7 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
"We consider Mick to be the heart and soul of our group,'' Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said. "He's got a motor that just doesn't stop, and he's have a very good year for us.''
Williams has 33 tackles in Pitt's 10 games, including 23 solo stops, three sacks and 13 total stops behind the line, one pass breakup, nine quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. And all this while being double- and triple-teamed more often than not.
"It's going great for me,'' Williams said. "As long as we're winning, I'm a happy guy. And we're having a great year for that. So, it doesn't matter what my stats are. I've been here where we could score five touchdowns, but still lose. So, stats have their place, but I'm not looking at them right now.
"I'm just concerned that we win football games, and the Backyard Brawl is the next one on our schedule. It's a lot of fun when you're winning, and your personal goals don't matter. (And) it couldn't be better for my senior year. I couldn't ask for more success for this team, and I'm doing pretty well, too.''
Williams has had friends and family members attend WVU, so the Backyard Brawl has been an integral part of his fall schedule for years. He nearly played for the Mountaineers, but fortunately for Pitt fans and the coaches the Panthers won that battle as well.
"This is a huge game,'' Williams said. "I've been going to this game since I was little, and I've known about this rivalry for a long time. It's a great rivalry. You know, it's a lot of fun, but it's a tough game. I've known some of those guys over the years, had a couple buddies on their team, but that doesn't matter.
"It's all business when the Backyard Brawl's here. I know they owe us one, so we've got to come out and play our hardest. (But) we won't do anything different. We just need to prepare the same way that we have and work just as hard. And if we watch the turnovers and penalties, we'll be all right.''
Pitt has won the past two Brawls with a 13-9 victory at WVU in 2007 when the Moutaineers were ranked No. 2 nationally and set for the BCS title game. The Panthers also won 19-15 last year at Heinz Field, but has not won three straight since a seven-game streak from 1976-82.
This is why Pitt and Williams won't look past WVU. It's always a big game no matter what's at stake. Even though the game basically means nothing as far as the Panthers' Big East title hopes are concerned, it means everything to the players and most certainly the fans.
"I know all about what's ahead of us,'' Williams said. "And that's the Backyard Brawl with West Virginia. We can't look past them. They've got a lot of great players like Noel Devine and Jarrett Brown, so you can't slouch on them. They are high-caliber players that will test our defense.
"We can't beat any other team this week except for West Virginia, so that's who we have to prepare for. Sure, we want to win the Big East and go to a big bowl game, but right now it's all about the Backyard Brawl. They're determined to beat us, so there's a lot on the line for both teams.
"The last time we went down there, it didn't turn out so good for them,'' Williams added. "But it was a party for us. It was a good feeling to beat a high-ranked team like that, one with tons of weapons, and that win is something I can always talk about. That's the time we beat second-ranked West Virginia.''
Williams and his teammates are looking forward to forging new memories during this year's Backyard Brawl.
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