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Irish prepare for talented receivers

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, November 11, 2004

Last year, when people thought of Pittsburgh, they thought of Larry Fitzgerald. This year, however, is different.

The Panthers offense is diverse and still dangerous under the arm of first-year starter Tyler Palko.

Palko has become famous for his ambidextrous tosses while being pressured.

“He’s versatile,” Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said. “He’s doing a great job of protecting the football, for the most part. He moves around in a timely basis to make it very difficult. And he’s putting the ball in the right places with his receivers.”

One threat catching the ball is 5-foot-8 Joe DelSardo. The former walk-on burned Rutgers Oct. 23 for 105 yards on eight catches. DelSardo is one of five Panthers who has recorded 100-yard receiving games this season. Greg Lee is also one of those. In his first full season as a starter, he is atop the Big East in receiving yards and eighth in the country, averaging 104 yards per game. Last week against Syracuse, he recorded 188 yards receiving in the Panthers’ 38-31 double-overtime loss. Lee also has had four 100-yard receiving games this season, first in the Big East. Willingham knows the Panthers have great receivers, especially Lee.

“Well, as you know, I think Coach [Walt] Harris and the Pittsburgh staff have done a great job with all of their wide receivers,” Willingham said. “It seems each year they have one of the premiere guys if not in the Big East, in the whole country. Any time you have a guy [Lee] that is that skilled, he poses a great deal of problems.”

Lee is one player the Irish must prevent from making big plays.

“I’ve seen them on film, and I know that they’re capable of making the big play. They spread the ball around the field pretty well,” Irish defensive backs coach Steven Wilks said. “One of the things that we’ve talked about all week is not giving the big play. They’re going to try play-action and go deep, and we’ve got to be smart and patient and play the pass first.”

Palko has gotten the ball to his receivers consistently this season. He has thrown for over 300 yards three times this season in eight games. The last two games, Palko has been especially dangerous, completing 67 percent of his passes, 55-for-85, and throwing for six touchdowns. During these two games against Syracuse and the win over Rutgers, Palko has thrown for 660 yards and just one interception.

Wilks knows Palko can hurt the Irish Saturday.

“[Their strength] is definitely in the quarterback,” Wilks said. “I think he’s very athletic, he makes things happen, he’s a tough guy.”

For the Irish, this will be a different look than at Tennessee where Erik Ainge was more of a drop-back, prototype passer.

This was after the Irish learned Brent Schaeffer wouldn’t play, a guy who is more like Palko, in that he will run the ball out of the quarterback position.

“[Palko] is not afraid to tuck it and run, go for the first down instead of slide,” Wilks said. “He’s going to make some things happen. That in itself makes things a little different from last week, when Schaeffer was out, and we were pretty sure that Ainge wasn’t going to run. This guy is a scrambler so we’ve got to make sure we’re smart and not give up the big play.”

But another thing the Irish must worry about is Panthers head coach Walt Harris, who said he’s been talking to Boston College head coach Tom O’Brien for advice on how to beat Notre Dame, as the Eagles knocked off the Irish 24-23 earlier this season