West Virginia is focused on Pitt quarterback
West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin said controlling Pitt's offense can be as simple as disrupting quarterback Tino Sunseri.
"Hassle him as much as we can," Irvin said, when asked the key to stopping the Panthers.
Irvin said film review of Pitt's season indicates the Panthers have turned to Sunseri, who has played with more decisiveness while leading Pitt to a 2-1 record since running back Ray Graham went out with season-ending knee injury.
"I think since Ray Graham went down, they rely on Tino to make plays with his legs and his arms," said Irvin, taking a break from preparations for Friday's Backyard Brawl in Morgantown, W.Va. "He's had his ups and down like any player would. But he's good enough to win five games, and they're still in the Big East hunt."
To that end, West Virginia could use a better pass rush. In 10 games, the Mountaineers have only 15 sacks (87th in the nation).
West Virginia will try to confuse Sunseri with an odd 3-3-5 defensive alignment that Pitt coach Todd Graham helped install in 2002 when he was the Mountaineers' co-defensive coordinator.
"The nature of it is unorthodox," Graham said. "They want to load the box and stop the run."
In other words, West Virginia will try to make Pitt one-dimensional and put the outcome on Sunseri's shoulders.
The simplest way to explain the West Virginia defense is that it replaces a lineman with an outside linebacker or defensive back.
"It's all about speed and getting people to the football," Graham said. "That takes a lot of throwing angles away with eight second-level guys."
Graham said he and his coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and tight ends coach Tony Dews, are familiar with the WVU defense from their days as assistants under former Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez.
"We have a pretty good idea," Graham said. "Does that help• It doesn't hurt, but it's still going to boil down to what coaches are getting out of their guys every day."
Graham said he took the 3-3-5 to Tulsa with him in 2003 after spending only two seasons at West Virginia, but it doesn't fit at Pitt, where the defensive line is a strength and has recorded 19 1⁄2 of the team's 32 sacks (fifth in the nation).
"The deal was kind of like just being adaptive," Graham said. "We have a whole bunch of defensive tackles. Why take those guys off the field• I like having Myles (Caragein) and Chas (Alecxih) and (Aaron) Donald. Chas is really underrated. He is a guy who is really going to do some great things in his future playing football."
Pitt has made adjustments to its offense (going slower) and its defense (getting simpler) since the beginning of the season, and the result has lifted the Panthers into contention in the Big East.
Still, Graham said success depends largely on making plays, not as much on deployment and strategy.
"College football is about matchups," he said. "You can put the guys wherever you want to put them. It's still about getting the guys blocked and executing."
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