Pitt relying on defensive-line depth
As Pitt staged a comeback against Connecticut earlier this month, Panthers nose tackle Myles Caragein paced anxiously along the sideline.
Caragein, a 6-2, 275-pound sophomore, couldn't wait to get his hands dirty. He wanted to mix it up with one of the best offensive lines in the Big East.
The Keystone Oaks graduate made the most of his minutes in relief of Gus Mustakas and Mick Williams. He helped the Panthers win the trench battle in the second half, enabling Pitt to erase a 15-point deficit en route to a 24-21 victory at Heinz Field.
"I love stuff like that, a tough, hard-hitting game," Caragein said. "I sometimes get anxious, maybe a little too excited. But I get focused during moments like that.
"I had one of my better games against UConn because I was able to get some pressures against a powerful team that has a lot of balance passing and running the ball."
Caragein, who has six tackles for losses and four sacks this season, didn't compile mind-blowing numbers - a sack, 2 quarterback hurries and 2 solo tackles. But his presence strengthens an already impressive defensive front that leads the conference with 33 sacks and limits running backs to 2.9 yards per carry.
More importantly, Caragein's gritty style reflects the tough-minded persona of a defense that overwhelmed a usually productive South Florida offense during last Saturday's 41-14 win that vaulted Pitt to No. 16 in the Associated Press poll.
The Panthers (7-1, 4-0) established control of the game, partly because Caragein constantly harassed Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels. The Panthers are likely to chase after two quarterbacks, Greg Paulus and Ryan Nassib, when they play Syracuse (3-4, 0-2) at noon on Nov. 7 at Heinz Field.
After the Orangemen, Pitt begins a grueling season-ending stretch against No. 5 Cincinnati, No. 20 West Virginia and No. 25 Notre Dame.
Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso is convinced his unit's depth could be the difference down the stretch as the Panthers will try to disrupt the rhythm of some of the nation's top quarterbacks - including Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Cincinnati's Tony Pike.
And Caragein could play a significant role in Pitt's success.
"I'm ready to step in and make some plays," Caragein said. "We have things we still have to work on, and there are things that I need to react to quicker. If I can help the team in any way possible, we can win."