Where Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh is now calling plays from the booth, defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads has no desire or plans to leave the sidelines.
After Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt on Tuesday offered his take on the advantages of seeing the game from a bird’s-eye view, Rhoads discussed today the advantages of coaching from a field-level vantage point.
“The positives I always see are the ebbs and flows of the game,” Rhoads said. “You have a feel for that, a beat on that and you can stay on top of that.
“Our particular style of coaching is very aggressive and very hands-on. I don’t believe you do that all week and then turn that off on Saturday. Some people coach with the philosophy of sort of hands off on Saturday, but I don’t know how our guys would handle that.
“Being right there in the middle of them and coaching them in the same style we do all week, I think, is a positive. I’ve always liked to be able to see the boys in the eyes, whether it’s on the sideline making corrections or looking out onto the field when they’re in the huddle.
“I’ve got a pretty good feel when they’re down and sort of middling around or when they’re hard-charging and like to believe we can either get them out of a rut or calm them down, whatever needs to be done by being on the sideline and observing those things.”
• If it seems odd that Pitt is preparing for Michigan State by watching Cincinnati game film, consider that Spartans first-year coach Mark Dantonio brought the majority of his coaching staff from Cincinnati.
And, apparently, is instilling a more conventional offensive philosophy into a program that ran the option last season and liked to stretch the field when it passed the ball.
“They’re pretty much doing in all phases – offense, defense and special teams – what they did at Cincinnati,” Wannstedt said. “They should do that. They were successful there.”
Not only did offensive coordinator Don Treadwell and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi follow Dantonio, but every Michigan State position coach came from Cincinnati, as well. The lone holdover is running backs coach Dan Enos, who coached quarterbacks at Cincinnati in 2004-05.
So Pitt has watched its own games against both Cincinnati – a 33-15 victory – and Michigan State – a 38-23 loss – from last season.
“I like that,” Wannstedt said. “It gives me an opportunity to see plays, more looks. You’re looking at them against an offense and defense that’s ours.”
Pitt also is scouting the Spartans’ first two games, victories over Alabama-Birmingham (55-18) and Bowling Green (28-17), which had beaten Minnesota a week earlier.
But the Panthers believe watching how Dantonio and his staff coached against Pitt is better preparation than watching the Spartans against a Bowling Green team that used five-receiver sets.
“We want to compare and make sure they’re doing the same things,” Rhoads said. “You want to see how they attacked us when they were at Cincinnati. Then you want to see their personnel and what they’re doing new this year, and the first two games provide a good look at that.”
• Although Wannstedt was 2-0 against Cincinnati the past two seasons, there’s a healthy respect from Pitt toward Michigan State’s coaching staff.
Just ask Rhoads.
“They’re extremely well-coached. They play with outstanding effort,” Rhoads said. “There’s a long touchdown run where three receivers make extraordinary blocks downfield. You might see a team with one guy that will make that block, maybe two out of three guys on a play but never three guys. We’ve got a lot of respect for this coaching staff and this football team.”
• Rhoads was asked if the Panthers are using last year’s Michigan State as motivation this week.
“We brought it up on Sunday. I don’t know if it’s been rehashed very often this week. I’m sure it has in the dorm rooms and the apartments and the locker rooms because we got our game handed to us in the second half,” Rhoads said.
“They’re very aware of their personnel and they’re very aware of what happened to us in the last 30 minutes of that ballgame last year.”
Pitt took a 10-0 lead into the second quarter, but Michigan State scored 38 unanswered points before the Panthers added a pair of touchdowns in the final 2:52.
• The Pitt-Connecticut game, which will be played at 7 p.m. on Sept. 22 at Heinz Field, will be televised on ESPNU. Let’s call it a parting gift from former Pitt athletic director Jeff Long, who left Tuesday to become head of the athletic department at the University of Arkansas.
Long explained late last month that there were three reasons behind Pitt’s decision to make it a 7 p.m. kickoff:
“One, it is partly based on Jewish holiday and we scheduled it in the evening to try be sensitive to Yom Kippur. Secondly, night games are better attended, so we wanted our fans to enjoy it. Third, there’s a possibility for ESPNU to broadcast this game.”
Of course, unless you have the sports package on your cable carrier or a satellite dish, it’s almost impossibl to watch it. Just like the Panthers’ first two home games.