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September 3, 2012
The Matchup: Defensive Line
With the shifty abilities of Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, and new starting quarterback Munchie Legaux taking the reins for the Bearcats, the defense lines will be asked upon to cause havoc in the backfield and to also slow down each opponent's running games.
Each team's defensive front line returns a bevy of star power and experience that will make the offensive line work for its post-game meal. With solid pass-rushers on the outside, and an interior that boasts a solid run-stopping force, the defensive line for each squad will be an exciting group to watch throughout Thursday's matchup and beyond.
The Cincinnati defensive line core boasts four starters that bring tons of experience, led by the converted linebacker Walter Stewart.
For those familiar with the program, the Cincinnati native showed up on campus weighing 215 pounds; however, after the transition to the defensive end position, Stewart now is closing in on 250 mark. He has not lost his explosiveness though.
Stewart relies heavily on his speed and agility, which made him a linebacker, in order to get around his man and into the opposing team's backfield (finished with six sacks for the 2011 campaign).
Cincinnati Rivals Analyst, Andrew Force, spoke very fondly on Stewart and his teammates on the front-line.
"Stewart is unbelievable. He has been starting for three years now and is their best player on defense. The second best player on defense could be the strong side defensive end, Dan Giordano."
Force did mention that Giordano is nursing an injury at the moment; however he should be ready for the matchup Thursday evening.
"The defensive ends are definitely the single best unit the Bearcats have on defense," said Force. "The question marks remain at defensive tackle spot. They had to replace Derek Wolfe, who was taken in the second round by the Denver Broncos this past year."
Entering play Thursday DL Coach Steve Stripling will count on Camaron Beard and Jordan Stepp to start. Look for CMU-transfer John Williams and program player Adam Dempsey to shuffle in the mix, as well.
Pitt's season opener on Saturday evening did not go as planned. One crucial stat hit home: It was the first time in 25 games that a Panther did not tally a sack. The defensive line was supposed to be a very solid unit in 2012, but the Youngstown State contest showed off a group of guys that seemed to be missing their spunk.
Pitt Rivals analyst, Josh Sickles, was able to give a few minutes of his time after Saturday night's upset loss to speak on the effort from the defensive line and what things looked like moving forward.
"In the loss, Pitt was missing three of its eight rotational members on the defensive line. Starting nose tackle, Tyrone Ezell, did not play due to a one-game suspension, and starting defensive end, T.J. Clemmings, dressed but did not play, as well."
Pitt hopes to have both back for the game Thursday evening. If not, they will have to rely on the likes of Aaron Donald and Bryan Murphy.
"Donald is just a beast inside, however he was not effective against Youngstown State," said Sickles. "He had double digit sacks last year and a lot is expected out of him this year. Murphy was ruled academically ineligible last season, but the staff likes him."
The defensive line might be where Cincinnati makes the push on Thursday evening in order to start off Big East play on the right note. Pitt's defensive line might be solid if everyone could get on the field at the same time, but that seems very unlikely come Thursday.
The Cincinnati front line is bolstered by the likes of Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano. If they can get any sort of push from the defensive interior, the Pitt OL will have to keep their heads on straight in order to keep their quarterback, Tino Sunseri off of his back Thursday night.