Pitt using role play
Greg Cross is finally getting a chance to spend a week of practice as the starting quarterback for a major-college football program.
The catch• Cross isn't doing it for Pitt, but rather against the Panthers.
The quarterback-turned-receiver will play the role of Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs in the triple option for the scout-team offense, as Pitt (2-0) prepares to play the Midshipmen (1-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.
"He gives us a better chance to simulate the option than Andrew Janocko or Pat Bostick would," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said of the fleet-footed Cross, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior. "You move your personnel around a little bit to give the best picture of what the opponent is going to do."
Receiver Aundre Wright portrayed Pat White the week of Pitt's 13-9 upset victory of then-No. 2 West Virginia in the 101st Backyard Brawl, giving the Panthers a genuine feel for the speed they would face in the read-option.
Now, Pitt is hoping Cross can emulate Dobbs, who has rushed for 130 yards on 43 carries and completed 14 of 21 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in two games.
It's up to the scout team to pull off the act.
"For a week like this and a week like West Virginia, it's so crucial for them to go out there and give all they've got," senior nose tackle Gus Mustakas said. "They don't get stuff in the newspaper, no respect or accolades, but it's on them. If they don't do a good job, we're not going to get a good look."
Navy piled up 497 total yards, including 331 rushing, in a 48-45 double-overtime victory at Pitt in 2007. Last year, with 16 days to prepare, the Panthers held the Midshipmen to 251 total yards, including 194 rushing, as Navy played without starting quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada.
Wannstedt said "there's no easy way, there's no soft way" to simulate the Midshipmen without resorting to the same tactics their linemen use, a theory tested when he was the defensive coordinator at the University of Miami and played against Oklahoma's Wishbone offense for the 1987 national championship. That means Pitt's scout team, under the direction of graduate assistant Rod Rutherford, will chop defenders at the line of scrimmage and use cut blocks on the perimeter while going full speed.
"We always came to the conclusion that, for us to play it effectively, we need to see it," Wannstedt said. "You take a little bit of a chance in practice by going full speed and doing the chop blocks, but you have to do it."
Conversely, because of the sleight of hand involved in the triple option, the defense has used practice periods without a ball to make sure every player follows their assignment and tackles their counterpart.
This week, the defense knows it is only as good as its scout team.
"They've got to give us the look because it is very hard to simulate," secondary coach Jeff Hafley said. "As important as our game plan is how well that scout team will perform this week."