Pitt coach Paul Chryst met with the media today to discuss any lingering questions from Pitt's 34-10 loss to Cincinnati Thursday night, as well as begin to preview the Panthers' matchup against Virginia Tech at Heinz Field this Saturday. Without further ado, let's get to some notes.
- Much like last week, Chryst said he was pleased with the way his team has responded to another disappointing loss.
"I thought there were some signs in the Cincinnati game where we’re getting better and growing," Chryst said. "Certainly plenty of things we have to improve upon. Quite honestly, that part of the process is fun and enjoyable. Guys are working at it and I thought we had a great practice yesterday. I like this team and the way they’re going about it."
I know it sounds like coachspeak just to say that you like the way your team is responding to adversity (and I think some of it certainly is), but I also believe that this team really has stayed upbeat through the first two games. We'll get a chance to talk to players tomorrow, so I'll try and get a read on how they're handling things. As much as the first two games set a "the sky is falling" pall over the team, it's important to keep perspective and remember that we are just two games into a 12-game season. Certainly, everything we've seen so far points to Pitt being worse than people anticipated this season, but there are still 10 games to play, and that's a fairly blank slate players can buy into.
That said, if the losses continue, I doubt the team's disposition will remain as sunny. I've covered some pretty bad football teams before, and it's usually around midway through the season, once things like conference titles and bowl bids are no longer mathematic possibilities, that things can start to turn.
Chryst said the biggest thing, for now, is providing the players with real goals and motivations to work for.
"This group cares. You just focus on things you can control. You have to point out tangible areas where if you do this you can get better. The process takes care of that," Chryst said. "If someone cares, if it’s important to them and they’re willing to work, there will be growth. I see that with a lot of guys. Right now, I don’t feel like it’s a team in fragile state of mind. Would we have liked to have won our first two games? Yes, but it didn’t happen and we have a great opportunity this week."
At a certain point, though, those tangible results have to turn into wins.
- A few changes on the depth chart this week. First, Bryan Murphy slides up to take over for Jack Lippert at the starting defensive end spot opposite T.J. Clemmings. I think this is just a matter of shaking things up in a unit that desperately needs some sort of jolt. Until the play along the defensive line improves, I wouldn't be surprised to see the coaching staff keep moving people around to try and find something that works.
Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks are now (officially) the two starters at safety, with Ray Vinopal and Andrew Taglianetti on the second-string. This pretty much confirms what we saw against Cincinnati. I'll have more on this tomorrow in my P-G notebook, but I think the staff may experiment a bit more this week with working Vinopal and Taglianetti into defensive snaps, whereas they played pretty much exclusively on special teams Thursday.
Finally, in a really minor move, Josh Brinson takes a second-string receiver spot from Ronald Jones. This, too, seems to confirm what we saw Thursday. Brinson looked like a pretty solid option, whereas Jones didn't see many targets, and had one drop on his best chance at a reception.
Remember, though, that this depth chart is a full five days before the game, so things can (and probably will) change. Guys will rotate in and out, so I wouldn't read too much into any of these moves.
- Freshman running back Rushel Shell had 31 yards on eight carries (3.9 ypc) in his collegiate debut Thursday. Only two of those carries came in the second half, and Chryst said today that that was largely a product of the way the game unfolded (i.e. Pitt trailing the entire game).
This is one area where Pitt's defense really hasn't done the offense any favors. This offense is going to work best when it can run the ball and rotate in Ray Graham, Isaac Bennett and Shell. Instead, the Panthers have found themselves trailing almost immediately after the kickoff. Against Cincinnati, it was 14-0 before most fans had found their seats. That, to an extent, limits what Chryst can do on offense. Tino Sunseri threw the ball 37 times against Cincinnati. That is, unequivocally, too many passing attempts for this offense. Pitt rushing offense actually looked pretty good on Thursday, and that's an area that should be a focus moving forward.
"Every one of those guys [the three running backs] did some good things and yet they can continue to get better," Chryst said. "That’s how it’ll always be and there will always be room for growth. The thing that I like about that group is I think they’re pretty talented players. You can set a pretty high bar and they should be able to meet that. I think as great of expectations that we have of them as coaches, theirs are equal if not higher."
- One of Pitt's biggest challenges this week will be containing Hokie junior quarterback Logan Thomas. Through two games, Thomas has completed 59 percent of his passes for 442 yards, four touchdowns and no picks. He has struggled with his consistency at times, but other times shown why he projects to be a high NFL Draft pick when he comes out.
"Obviously a very impressive athlete, but I think he’s a very impressive quarterback," Chryst said. "There’s no way we can mimic it. We don’t have a guy on our scout team that is that size and plays quarterback. We’ll do our best in preparing for it, but he certainly is a gifted and talented quarterback."
That's all for now. We'll get players and assistant coaches, as well as some limited practice viewing, tomorrow afternoon, so I'll check back in after that.