Oct. 9, 2002
This week the Notre Dame football team prepares to take on a tough 5-1 Pittsburgh Panthers squad. The Panthers have won 11 out of their last 12 games heading into Notre Dame Stadium and are looking to snap a five-game losing streak in South Bend.
The Panthers are averaging 358.0 total yards a game, 225.2 of which come through the air. In order for the Irish to slow down the Panthers passing attack, the defense is going to have keep making big plays. Defensive line coach Greg Mattison explained how the defensive line has been able to create opportunities for the linebackers, and the secondary to make those big plays.
“Our philosophy is that if we play the gap and take two guys to block you, then someone is not going to be blocked and will have the opportunity to make a play on the ball.”
Pittsburgh is led by junior quarterback Rod Rutherford who has passed for 225.2 yards passing per game and has 11 touchdowns on the year. The Panthers passing attack not only leads the BIG EAST in passing efficiency, but is also ranked 15th in the nation as well. Mattison sees the Panthers as the Irish defense toughest game yet.
“I believe this is going to be one of our toughest opponents. They give a look that we have not seen a lot and that is the ability to run the ball and a mobile quarterback.”
Mattison went on to explain the keys to defending such a dangerous offense.
“In order to stop them we have to stay in our rush lanes, play team defense and try to get a sack, but not at the expense of the team. You can?t ever let an offense have two dimensions, so one of our goals will be to shut down the run, which will give us a better chance to defend the pass.”
The Irish defense this year has been the driving force behind the 5-0 start. They have scored four touchdowns this year from four different players and are in the top 10 in the nation in several defensive categories including seventh in total defense by only allowing 273.6 yards/game. Mattison commented on the reason the defense has been such a difference maker this year compared to other years.
“I think our ability to play more zone has enabled us to get more bodies around the ball. Anytime you play zone you have the ability to pick up the ball easier. The other thing is the age factor. There are a lot of kids out there who have played a lot. They were thrown in there as freshmen or sophomores and have had their learning and growing pains, and now that they are seniors they feel like they can take charge and play faster style of football. Our veterans also display great leadership, and I think when you have that everything else falls into place.”
Notre Dame is looking for their 10th win in 11 tries against the Panthers on Saturday. The game will be televised live on NBC starting at 1:30 EST