Pitt readies for nation's leading rusher

Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald practices Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.
Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald practices Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.
Photo by Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 11:00 p.m.

New Mexico coach Bob Davie has been in coaching long enough to know a mismatch when he sees one.

And that's what he saw, in terms of size and physicality, when he watched video of Pitt, his opponent Saturday at Heinz Field.

“Pitt is much bigger, much more physical than we are,” Davie said. “That's obvious. That just jumps at you.”

New Mexico's tricky triple option offense — run from the pistol formation — could be the equalizer that keeps the score close. But Pitt's size advantage on the offensive line can't be ignored.

Pitt averages 315 pounds — no one is under 300 — but the linemen on the Lobos' 3-4 defense check in at an average of 280.6, backed up by 6-foot-2, 204-pound outside linebacker Rashad Rainey.

“They are so much more physical-looking,” Davie said. “We're a smaller team from a smaller conference (Mountain West) coming in with a unique scheme trying to play the big, powerful BCS conference team. All it is for us is a great opportunity to try to get better.”

If the game doesn't appear to be a fair fight, consider the Lobos' senior running back, Kasey Carrier. He leads the nation in rushing (an average of 172.5 yards per game).

Davie likes to put the ball in Carrier's hands, and not just because he is the Lobos' only significant offensive weapon.

Carrier rushed for 291 yards and four touchdowns on 41 carries last week in a 42-35 overtime victory against UTEP. Last year, he set a Mountain West record with 338 yards on 39 attempts in a loss to Air Force.

The scouting report on Carrier, 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, is that he is elusive and breaks tackles. And by the accounts of several Pitt players and coaches, tackling was not what the Panthers did best in their loss to Florida State.

“Those are areas we have to improve on,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “I think we will be challenged.”

Pitt third-string quarterback Trey Anderson was Carrier's teammate at Pearland (Texas) High School, and Anderson has been warning Pitt's defenders.

“You have to bring your body when you tackle him,” Anderson said. “He's going to run through arm tackles. He's shifty; you have to make sure you bring your feet and make sure you hit him with everything you've got.”

The difficult part for Pitt's defense will be reading the proper keys — something several players admitted they didn't do well against FSU — while trying to keep an eye on the shifty Carrier.

“You just have to be where you are supposed to be,” Pitt linebacker Anthony Gonzalez said. “You just have to trust your teammates that they are going to be at their spot at that certain time, and just do your job.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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