Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Panthers Aren't Laughing at Rice's'joker' Hybrid De-Lb Will Be Test for Pass Protection

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Panthers Aren't Laughing at Rice's'joker' Hybrid De-Lb Will Be Test for Pass Protection

Article excerpt

Pitt left tackle Brian O'Neill started watching film of Pitt's next opponent, and one member of the Rice Owls defense immediately jumped off the screen at him.

"The first thing that stands out is No. 44's a really good player," O'Neill said.

Yes, the "Joker" is coming to Heinz Field this weekend in the form of No. 44 for Rice, redshirt senior Brian Womac. That's the term Pitt's using to refer to Womac's position for the Owls - part-linebacker, part-end, but full-bore at all times, whether he's trying to get to the quarterback or running down a ballcarrier.

Womac, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound Houston native, leads his hometown program in sacks with four and tackles for loss with eight through four games this season. The Owls are 1-3, but it's not for any lack of effort or energy from the three-year starter who's also third on the team in tackles with 19.

"He creates a problem because he's a high-motor guy," coach Pat Narduzzi said. "I could see guys like him in the past be terrors. I can see that guy playing in the NFL. He's just got one of those knacks of getting to the quarterback."

No other Owl has even two sacks, but as a team, they're tied for 10th in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 13. Given Pitt's struggles in pass-protection this year, the recipe for Rice to keep things close Saturday figures to include forcing the Panthers into third-and-long situations by being in the backfield early and often - Womac, especially.

"Will he be the most talented guy that we face this year? I don't know. We'll find out Saturday, for sure," Narduzzi said. "But he poses problems. They do a lot of blitzing with him on third down. They'll bring him in the middle and do all kinds of twist games, so we have some things for him. Our guys certainly know who 44 is. He's been a big focus this week in our practice. We will be locked into where he is all the time and what we can do to put a hat on him. …

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