Panthers control line of scrimmage
Sam Werner | Monday, November 16, 2009
Even though Dion Lewis and Ray Graham are the ones that will show up on the highlight reels, Pittsburgh’s offensive and defensive lines were just as crucial in the victory over Notre Dame Saturday night.
“Pitt’s defensive ends gave us a lot of pressure which forced Jimmy Clausen to step up,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “He was under heat all game long.”
Even though the Panthers, sacked Clausen just twice on the night, the second resulted in a game-ending fumble, and the junior quarterback had defenders in his face throughout the game.
Pittsburgh junior defensive end Jabaal Sheard said after the game that the Panther line worked as a unit during the week to bring the heat Saturday night.
“I think in the past, I was getting a little bit predictable on my moves,” Sheard said. “This week I really studied my opponents and with the help of [junior defensive lineman] Greg [Romeus] getting a good push, I was able to get some good pressure.”
The Irish are 69th in the country in sacks allowed, having given up a total of 21 so far this season.
An offensive line that was supposed to be much improved coming into the season also cost the Irish when senior guard Dan Wenger was whistled for a 15-yard personal foul penalty for a chop block on Notre Dame’s final drive of the game. The penalty pushed the Irish back from 2nd-and-1 to 2nd-and-16.
“Just when we had momentum on that last drive, all of a sudden we’re up by the [40-yard line] and now there’s a chop block,” Weis said.
While the Irish pass blocking struggled, Notre Dame’s rushing attack appeared to be effective early, and junior running back Armando Allen finished with 77 yards on just 14 carries. Once the Irish fell behind, though, they were forced to all but abandon the run in an effort to play catch-up.
On the other side of the ball, the Pittsburgh offensive line was just as effective, allowing no sacks on senior quarterback Bill Stull. The Irish only hurried Stull four times on the night.
The Panther offensive line also dominated in the running game, as freshmen combined for 209 yards on the ground. Each also had a run of over 50 yards.
“We let up too many big plays,” Irish junior linebacker Brian Smith said. “We lost.”
Notre Dame’s run defense appeared to have improved in games against Washington, USC and Boston College. In each game, the Irish were able to limit the yards of usually explosive running backs.
Last week against Navy, though, the defense appeared to take a step back, allowing 348 yards on the ground to the Midshipmen’s triple option offense.
The Irish now rank 72nd nationally in rushing defense, allowing an average of 153.2 yards per game.
Notre Dame also notched only two tackles for loss, while Pittsburgh racked up a dominating eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage.