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Panthers flying high

Matt Lozar | Tuesday, October 7, 2003

To find out why the Pittsburgh offense is so dangerous, just check out the individual pass efficiency ratings. At the top is Panthers quarterback Rod Rutherford with a rating of 182.9. For comparison, Texas Tech’s B.J. Symons is second with a rating of 171.9, even though he threw for 505 yards and eight touchdowns on Saturday.

Rutherford’s astronomical rating is courtesy of a 61.7 percent completion mark. He has also thrown for 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Last year, Rutherford had 22 touchdowns for the entire season.

“He is really good and has really stepped his game up. He is a much better quarterback this year than last year,” Irish defensive line coach Gregg Mattison said. “He is making the right decision to run the ball or stay in the pocket. He is a real threat. He is the reason why this team is so much better.”

The recipient of a majority of those passes has been sophomore sensation Larry Fitzgerald, who is leading Division I with 145 receiving yards per game and is fourth with eight receptions per contest.

Fitzgerald also has nine touchdowns, good for 13.5 points per game, an average that ranks second nationally. Just watching the highlights of his numerous acrobatic catches has even left the head man for the Irish in awe.

“It’s like which catch do you talk about or which one in the corner,” Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said. “This guy is triple-covered and it’s like he’s the only guy there and he comes away with it.”

Hoping to control an explosive Pittsburgh offense that puts up 38 points each week, the Irish are concentrating on staying disciplined against the multi-threat Rutherford. The Irish haven’t been consistent in getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, something they counted on going into this season.

Rutherford doesn’t have impressive rushing numbers, but his ability to take off for a scramble at a moment’s notice has the Irish ready.

“You just have to play your game and make sure you are in your rush lanes. The thing there is that he makes it hard to gamble. You have to continue to fill all the lanes,” Mattison said. “If it’s a passing situation, you have to beat one-on-one blocks. … I don’t think there is any more pressure that we have to pressure on them.

“Every team we play where you don’t get pressure on the quarterback, they are going to complete passes.”

Having two weeks to prepare for Pittsburgh allows the Irish to concentrate on improving individually along with getting healthy for the best offense they have seen this year. Rutherford and Fitzgerald will provide a very difficult challenge.

“We have worked on Pittsburgh a lot this week and in any of our team drills, we focused on Pittsburgh,” Mattison said. “It’s been real upbeat. We went out and got our kids that are nicked up healthy and tried to get better on our technique.

“I think we accomplished what we set out to do.”