Pitt familiar with Notre Dame's offense
Friday, October 08, 2010
By Paul Zeise, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pitt's veteran players are familiar with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's offense, and most compare its pace to a run-and-gun basketball team which specializes in full-court pressure and fastbreaks.

The offense is designed to spread defenses out and keep the pressure on by not huddling, getting to the line quickly and snapping the ball.

It is a brutal pace for teams who are not used to facing it. Some Panthers believe the Notre Dame offense will put their conditioning through a difficult test.

Pitt (2-2) plays Notre Dame (2-3) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in South Bend, Ind.

Pitt got to know Brian Kelly's offense the past three seasons when he was the coach at Cincinnati. Kelly is in his first year with the Irish.

[IMGL]http://i52.tinypic.com/2mg9qq1.jpg[/IMGL]Pitt defensive end Jabaal Sheard said the thing he remembers about the battles with Cincinnati was the breakneck pace of the offense and how it wore the Panthers down. He said it is especially tough on the defensive linemen because there are so many quick passes and screens, which make the linemen spend a lot of time pursuing players other than the quarterback.

"[The offense] gets us tired," Sheard said. "It kind of slows us down a little bit, those quick passes and everything, it just tires you out because you are working your motor so much. And then they screen you, so I'd say it slows you down and you get mad and tired but you have to keep working every play and play for four quarters and try to get the job done."

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said that the Notre Dame offense is similar to what the Bearcats ran under Kelly, but it's obvious that it is still in the infant stages.

Pitt won the first game against Kelly's Cincinnati team in 2007, 24-17, mostly on the strength of an opportunistic defense that held the Bearcats to only 237 yards passing and forced three turnovers.

Two years ago, in a 28-21 win against Pitt, Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike shredded the Panthers for 302 yards and three touchdowns. Last year Pike threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-44 Bearcats win.

Wannstedt said the big difference between the Bearcats in 2007 and the Bearcats in '09 was that they were much more comfortable with the offense two years later.

"Notre Dame is probably not playing at the same pace [as Cincinnati last year], but all of the routes, the formations and the plays are the things that Brian Kelly believe in," Wannstedt said. "We went back and looked at the films and it looks like he is doing some of the same things that they did the first and second years at Cincinnati when he was there.

"Last year they were just so much more advanced in the tempo of the game and the plays that they ran, that if you compare the different years you do see some differences. But that is just because as the players grasp the system, you can add more."

Wannstedt said the Panthers have spent a lot of time this week working against the no-huddle offense as well as trying to simulate the pace of the Irish game.

He said he plans to try to rotate four defensive ends and four defensive tackles into the game in order to try to keep everyone fresh.

The Irish are averaging 24.6 points and 404 yards per game this season (the Bearcats averaged 38.6 points and 447.5 yards per game last year) and have scored 23 or more points in four of five games.

The lone exception was a 37-14 loss to Stanford when the Irish seemed overmatched.

Leading the way for Notre Dame has been quarterback Dayne Crist, who, Wannstedt said, has clearly improved each week as he has settled into Kelly's offense. Crist has completed 113 of 194 passes for 1,358 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.

His top receiver is Theo Riddick, who has 30 catches for 320 yards, and he also has one of the best receivers in the country to throw to in Michael Floyd, who has 28 catches for 408 yards and two touchdowns.

Also, the Irish feature Kyle Rudolph (23 catches for 290 yards and three touchdowns), who is one of the nation's top tight ends and a top tailback in Armando Allen (80 rushes for 390 yards and two touchdowns).

Wannstedt said Crist's development, combined with the Irish skill position players, make them a very dangerous opponent.