Coach Dave Wannstedt held his Tuesday press briefing earlier this afternoon and had a few interesting things to say. Also, running back Ray Graham, middle linebacker Max Gruder and weak-side linebacker/nickel back/safety Dom DeCicco spoke with reporters earlier in the day.
Here are some highlights from Tuesday’s coverage of Pitt as the Panthers (2-2) prepare to play at Notre Dame (2-3) on Saturday.
*** The pre-snap penalties continue to grind at Wannstedt, so he’s making his players more accountable for their mistakes at practice. On Wednesday, the refs who come in every week to officiate Pitt’s 11-on-11 drills will make sure to inform the coaches when someone is off-sides or commits a procedure, false start or interference penalty. Coach Wannstedt said he and his staff will take notes of the offenders and anyone who is flagged will be running after practice.
“We are putting the penalties out in front of our players every week,” Wannstedt said.
Pitt was flagged for seven pre-snap penalties in the 44-17 victory over Florida International, including six in the first half. Brandon Lindsey was called for two infractions in a three-play span, one of them nullifying a would-be Pitt fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Wannstedt said he will not let youthfulness be used as an excuse.
“I think it’s just lack of concentration” he said. “You start talking about not being offsides the day you start playing football. There is really no excuse for it.”
*** Ray Graham said he doesn’t care who starts at running back against Notre Dame. Graham is No. 3 in the nation at 164 yards per game, but Dion Lewis, who sat out last week’s game against Florida International with a sore shoulder, is practicing and expected to start.
“It’s not a big deal to me,” Graham said. “The only thing that matters to me is the win.”
*** Graham and Lewis will meet an improving Notre Dame rush defense. The Fighting Irish have allowed only one run of 10 or more yards in their past two games, and held Boston College to 5 yards on 23 carries in a 31-13 victory on Saturday. In the first three games, coach Brian Kelly’s team allowed 21 runs of 10 or more yards in its first three games.
“I think the players are just getting more comfortable with what they are doing,” Wannstedt said. “They are good players. They have a lot of talent. They run real well. I think it’s probably just becoming more and more familiar with the system.”
*** Senior Dom DeCicco said his transition from strong safety to weak-side linebacker is eased because he knows the defensive schemes so well. DeCicco had six tackles against Florida International in his first start at linebacker/nickel back.
“I knew exactly what I was doing, but it was a matter of actually doing it,” he said. “I’ve never done it, but as the week went on in practice and the game went on, I got more comfortable.”
DeCicco provides better pass coverage against three and four-receiver sets. And because linebacker requires less running than safety, it reduces the strain on his sore hamstring.
“It definitely fits me way better,” DeCicco said. “Learning the passing game is the hard part. The running game is just reacting and going and making a tackle.”
The move also allows Jason Hendricks, who is tied for second on the team with 21 tackles, to start at strong safety.