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Pitt defense still seeking identity

Pitt defensive lineman Bryan Murphy (93) is congratulated by linebacker Anthony Gonzalez (28) after sacking Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke (14) in the second quarter Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, at Heinz Field.

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Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 9:11 p.m.

The game doesn't sound complicated. The defense finds the man with the football and puts him on the ground.

Simple? Not quite.

The trouble with the college version of the game is that the players are young, easily distracted and — many times — in a system that doesn't fit their talents.

Sometimes, the coach gets fired or leaves. Then, a new coach with new ideas arrives and is faced with several players he didn't recruit.

The Pitt defense, which holds the key to defeating Navy on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Md., has undergone many face changes.

Matt House is the fourth man to hold the title of Pitt defensive coordinator since 2010.

House replaced Dave Huxtable, who left after last season to join the North Carolina State staff. House changed the design of the defense from less man-to-man to more zone schemes.

“The guys are working hard to get the concept,” House said.

Pitt has won four of six games, but it allowed three touchdowns each in victories against lightweights New Mexico and Old Dominion.

Navy, which is sixth in the nation in rushing yardage (304.2 ypg.), won't be an easy offense to solve.

“You have to account for the dive, you have to account for the quarterback, you have to account for the pitch, you have to be aware of the play action,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said.

Pitt's defenders must do all that while trying to avoid Navy's cut-block tactics that can be a problem if you're not alert.

“I don't think you can ever get used to the speed,” House said, “especially the speed in which those guys are going to get cut.”

Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds makes the offense work with quick feet, intelligence and a strong arm.

“He runs their offense well,” House said. “He's definitely not like some option quarterbacks. They can't throw the ball across the field. He can.”

Pitt can expect a heavy dose of run plays. Navy went to the ground on 93 of 106 snaps in a double-overtime loss to Toledo last week.

But Reynolds also threw for 233 yards with only 10 completions while defeating Delaware, 51-7.

“It's all because they mess with your eyes with play action,” House said.

Navy catches Pitt in a weakened situation, with defensive end Ejuan Price out indefinitely with a back injury. That leaves the position to Bryan Murphy, Dave Durham and freshman Shakir Soto.

House hopes fatigue doesn't become a significant factor.

“If you don't rotate guys, you get worn out,” he said.

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

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