Finally healthy, Mustakas starting to make impact

By Mike Gladysz

With an ice pack wrapped around his left knee, Gus Mustakas held his bags and answered questions… With an ice pack wrapped around his left knee, Gus Mustakas held his bags and answered questions beneath Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Mustakas, who tore the ACL in his left knee last season, was feeling a bit sore. But the grin on his face sure didn’t show it. Aside from the ice on his knee, one thing was evident as he made his way toward the team bus: He was back. Mustakas earned his first start of the year on Saturday in place of Mick Williams, who went down during the week with a concussion. Mustakas, a starter two years ago who had 15 games of starting experience behind him, was happy to finally get back into the flow of the defense and break loose. ‘I feel like I really needed this game,’ said Mustakas of Pitt’s 42-21 win over Navy. ‘It felt good to start making plays again.’ Mustakas, a redshirt junior, finished the game with four tackles, one for a three-yard loss, and a fumble recovery. In a game that was as physical as any for the linemen, Mustakas and his knee held up. He said that’s something that couldn’t have happened a few weeks ago. ‘We had the bye week, and I had a little rest,’ said Mustakas. ‘Last week in practice was by far the best practice I had. My knee not swelling up, it felt real good. ‘It was the worst feeling seeing [Pitt] play last year, being on the sideline. But I felt good. Hopefully I’ll be going for the rest of the season.’ Pitt can definitely use Mustakas, who at 6-feet-3-inches, 275 pounds, has proven in the past that he can be a brick in the middle. Against Navy, which has much of its game plan revolving around the fullback, Mustakas was a force. Mustakas and the rest of the defensive line held Navy fullback Eric Kettani to only 13 yards rushing. Kettani had previously gained 133 yards against Rutgers and 175 against Wake Forest. If the defensive line can continue to see production from guys like Mustakas, along with the regular production out of ends Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus, the unit will help Pitt win a lot of games. Now, let’s look at a little bit of what we could see against Rutgers at Heinz Field this coming Saturday. Rutgers (2-5, 1-2 Big East) lost to Navy, 23-21, in late September. The only other time Rutgers put up 20 or more points came in a 38-0 blowout of Morgan State. Still, the Scarlet Knights are coming off a 12-10 win against Connecticut, and no game should be looked at as an easy win for Pitt. There are a few things Pitt did well against Navy offensively that it might continue against Rutgers to keep the running game fresh and the defense guessing. The Panthers used a lot of motion from the tight ends, sometimes moving two at once. During one play, Pitt lined up in a set with two tight ends (John Pelusi and Nate Byham), two backs (LeSean McCoy and Conredge Collins) and a receiver (Cedric McGee). Pelusi and Byham started on the right side, then motioned simultaneously to the left. When the ball was snapped, Pitt had both Pelusi and Byham to seal the hole, along with Collins to lead the way. But this play, while simple, can lead to big things for Pitt. For one, McGee is a threat at receiver on the outside. Both tight ends ‘- especially Byham ‘- have the skills to make plays when covered by a linebacker or an undersized corner. Because of this, the defense is at a disadvantage. If the unit expects the run, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh can make some changes and add in a pass or two to keep the defense honest. Add in a deep threat like freshman Jonathan Baldwin on the outside, and the play-action pass is just waiting there to strike. McCoy will have a chance to eat up some big yards on Saturday against a team without a great rush defense. When McCoy starts bringing the defense up, that outside man will open right up. Football questions? E-mail them to Mike at [email protected].