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Panthers hope to avoid speed trap today

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Scouting Report:

Pitt (2-4, 1-1 Big East) vs. South Florida (3-2, 1-0)

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt spent quite a few years in Florida with the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes, so he has a good idea of what the Panthers (2-4, 1-1 in the Big East) are up against today when they play host to the South Florida Bulls (3-2, 1-1) in a key conference matchup at Heinz Field.

Speed. And lots of it.

That's what every team in Florida is built on, and the Bulls, who have been a Division I-A program only since 2001, are no exception. They have fast guys at nearly every position. Wannstedt believes the fact that the Bulls have so many speedy players in their back yard gives them an opportunity to grow into a legitimate Top-20 team faster than many other programs.

"Something like 30 or 40 Division I-A schools recruit [in] the state of Florida for that reason alone," Wannstedt said. "There are so many good high school players to choose from, and the game down there is all based on speed. If you look at South Florida, the thing that stands out is their team speed.

"The three top schools in Florida [Miami, Florida State and Florida] will still get the majority of the top players, but they can't take all of those kids and South Florida will be right there to step in and grab those guys up. Also, kids who leave the state to go to top programs elsewhere that get homesick or whatever, they'll certainly take a look at transferring back closer to home.

"This will be a huge challenge for us because I don't think that we've faced a team with their speed, and the thing that makes a team with speed so dangerous is it is always capable of breaking a big play."

The Panthers are one of the schools that often have gone to Florida to get players. The tradition dates to the early 1970s, when Wannstedt played at Pitt. The current roster includes 18 players from Florida.

Wannstedt said recruiting in Florida always will be a priority because of the success they've had in finding players there and also because he likes to build defenses that are fast.

"We've always had a presence in the state and we will continue to do so. The thing about team speed is it allows you to do so many different things with your personnel, and it causes so many problems for your opponents. Speed can cover a multitude of deficiencies."

The Bulls use a spread offense, frequently with four or five receivers, and try to create one-on-one open field matchups.

And although they use a lot of receivers, they are not a wide-open throwing team. Instead, their main weapon is tailback Andre Hall, who is averaging 103 yards rushing per game and 5 yards per carry.

"They like to spread you out and force you to cover the whole field, then hand the ball to Hall and let him find the gaps," said cornerback Josh Lay. "He is fast and he is a tough runner, so he finds his hole quickly and, if you don't get him at the line, he can go a long way."

Defensively, the Bulls use their speed to pressure the passer. Their corners are fast and can handle one-on-one coverage. That enables them to blitz a lot.

Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko said that the Bulls' front seven is the fastest the Panthers have faced and the Panthers will need to contain them in order to win the game.

"They have some fast guys up front, and their linebackers all run well, so we'll certainly be put to the test," Palko said. "When you play against a team with speed, the key is to understand that you have to execute and be crisp in everything you do because you'll likely pay for every mistake either by giving up a sack or a turnover.

"We have our work cut out for us, no doubt, but we can't start focusing so much on what they do that we don't execute what we're trying to do. It starts with us taking care of our business and, if we do that, we'll be fine."


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