No, seriously, does anyone want to play linebacker? Contact Dave Huxtable at the Pitt football building. It looks like the Panthers will only have five linebackers dressed when they travel to Notre Dame Saturday. Here are the notes from defensive coordinator Huxtable's meeting with the media today.
- With the linebackers, it certainly looks like the only available options for Pitt Saturday will be Todd Thomas/Nicholas Grigsby (Will linebacker), Joe Trebitz (Mike linebacker) and Eric Williams/Emanuel Rackard (Sam linebacker). Shane Gordon is, I guess, still technically questionable for this week, but all indications have been that he won't be able to go. So, that's right, we're not really sure what the options are behind Trebitz at the middle linebacker position. When we asked Huxtable who the backup would be in a worst-case scenario, he said he didn't know.
"I don’t know," he said. "The closest guy to me that I grab and tell him to get in there, so don’t anybody stand too close to me."
Jokes aside, I think the most likely option is shifting some guys around to make it work if for some reason Trebitz goes down. Either than, or go exclusively to a nickel package and play with an extra safety (probably Andrew Taglianetti) on the field.
Regardless, this is a major area of concern. The linebackers are going to have to stop the run if Pitt wants any chance to win Saturday, and show that the Youngstown State/Cincinnati debacles truly are a thing of the past. The one constant in Notre Dame's two blowout wins this season (50-10 over Navy and 41-3 over Miami) is that they were able to run the ball at will against both opponents. Despite Brian Kelly's pedigree, this Irish squad is a run-first team, so that's what the linebackers will have to stop Saturday.
- That said, it will certainly be a great opportunity for Trebitz making his first career start at Notre Dame Stadium. As the Mike linebacker, he'll be responsible for making the calls on defense and making sure players are lined up correctly.
"He’s highly motivated. He’s very excited about it. Joe is spending a lot of extra time," Huxtable said. "Joe’s been a guy that’s been in and putting in the overtime by himself, watching film, studying film, coming into my office, asking questions."
- Huxtable also talked about the differences between the linebacker positions. Essentially, the Sam linebacker is what he called a "big nickel," playing primarily in space covering receivers. The other two linebackers are more in the box and playing against blockers. That's one of the adjustments Thomas has had to make since moving to the other side of the field.
"Now he’s having to come inside, and it’s a whole different world inside," Huxtable said.
- The Irish offense has been up and down this season. Like I said earlier, when they're running the ball without resistance, they can rack up points with any team in the country. Kelly does still run a spread offense, but it doesn't really resemeble the attack he had at Cincinnati. Everett Golson is under center a lot, and Notre Dame will try and run the ball first, with Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick.
"They’re very multiple in everything that they do, from a personnel standpoint and giving you a lot of formations with the personnels that they use. They’re going to be a big challenge for us," Huxtable said. "Aside from the fact that they’ve got personnel, just the things that they do on offense, we’re going to have to be sharp and ready to adjust and align to a lot of the things that we’re going to get."
If Notre Dame can run it well, they'll be able to control the gameplan for Golson and put the young quarterback in situations that are comfortable for him. Pitt's best shot at winning is to shut down the running game and make Golson beat them. Of course, that's much easier said than done.
- I did Q&A session earlier today with Keith Arnold from NBC over on his "Inside the Irish" blog, if you want to check it out.