Scouting the Panthers: Defensive Line/Linebackers
By David Collier, junior broadcast journalism major, Meek School of Journalism and New Media
As Ole Miss prepares for their battle against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the BBVA Compasss Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 5, let’s take a look at the Panthers’ defense, specifically the defensive line and linebackers.
This is the first part of a seven-part series where I will break down each position every Monday, Wednesday and Friday leading up to the game.
The Panthers run a traditional 4-3 defense and are led by junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who was named to the first team All-Big East team.
The 6-foot, 275-pound Donald was a big run stopper in the middle of the Panthers’ defense that ranks third in the Big East in total defense – giving up 325.8 yards per game – and rushing defense – giving up 129.1 yards per game.
Donald finished the regular season third on the team in total tackles with 63. He tallied an impressive 18.5 tackles for a loss, including 5.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries.
Next to Donald is junior Tyrone Ezell at nose tackle. Ezell, who sits at 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, has 34 total tackles on the year, including seven for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
At defensive end, the Panthers aren’t getting much production. Senior Shayne Hale and sophomore Bryan Murphy sit atop the depth chart, but they have only tallied 23 and 26 total tackles, respectively.
The Pittsburgh defense uses a traditional linebacker set and have received equal production across the board from their starters.
Junior Shane Gordon is the leader at middle linebacker, and he has 48 tackles, including six for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Gordon also has six pass breakups this season.
Sophomore Eric Williams is the strong side linebacker. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Williams also has 48 tackles on the year with 3.5 tackles for a loss, a sack, an interception and two fumble recoveries.
An interesting note on Williams is that he has five of the six quarterback hurries of the three starting linebackers, so if the Panthers decide to bring pressure, expect it to be from Williams.
At weak side linebacker is sophomore Todd Thomas, who has accumulated 51 total tackles on the season. Thomas also has 1.5 sacks, an interception and four pass breakups.
Another interesting note is that out of the Panthers 23 total sacks on the year, only 1.5 came from a player in the secondary. Pittsburgh uses their front four to draw the most pressure on the quarterback, but if they do decide to bring a blitz, it’s most likely not coming from the secondary.
On Friday, we will take a look at the Panthers’ secondary.
Follow David on Twitter @DavidCollier.
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