Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable spoke with the media after Pitt's practice today. Here's a few quick hits from what he and some players had to say about Pitt's win over Virginia Tech Saturday, as well as the plan moving forward.
- As expected, Huxtable confirmed that fifth-year senior Andrew Taglianetti will take over at nickelback for Jahmahl Pardner, who was lost for the season against the Hokies with a torn ACL. Taglianetti filled in for Pardner on Virginia Tech's final drive Saturday, and actually played the role for most of training camp.
"I really feel bad for [Pardner because he’s another guy that just loves the game of football and was accepting that role and was excited about it," Huxtable said. "Tags will take that over the rest of the year now and do a good job for us."
Obviously, you like that a Pardner was able to step up and grab the starting role as a true freshman, but there shouldn't be much (if any) drop off with Tags in there. He has a good nose for the ball and, as a fifth-year senior, shouldn't make mental mistakes.
- Huxtable said the coaching staff was able to free up Aaron Donald into more one-on-one situations against Virginia Tech than they were in the first two games. If they can continue to do that moving forward, that's a huge boon for this defensive line. Donald only had one tackle Saturday, but it came for a loss of six yards right after Tino Sunseri threw an interception in Pitt's territory. Donald also had four QB hurries, according to the official stat sheet. Point is, he was much more of a presence Saturday than he was in the first two games.
"I thought Aaron played real hard," Huxtable said. "We did a few things last Saturday to help us get him more singled up. I think that helped him. You can’t always put him in that situation, but Saturday we were able to do a few things to get him in that situation."
Huxtable also noted that the other three guys on the line need to step up to help Donald and, well, I'll just let him speak for it...
"The more War Daddies that you have up there, they don’t have to pay as much attention to one guy, they’ve got to pay attention to the other three guys as well," Huxtable said.
- Freshman Darryl Render also seems to have pushed his way further up in the rotation, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a look at some extended playing time Saturday, especially if the game gets out of hand. Huxtable said the staff originally recruited Render as a defensive end, but moved him inside due to some depth issues up the middle. Render has taken to the new role well.
"He’s just gotten bigger and bigger," Huxtable said. "With some of the lack of depth inside, [we] put him in there. He said, ‘Coach I just want to play. Put me wherever you want me to play.’ And he accepted it, and he’s embraced it and put his arms around it and done a great job."
- Huxtable said Virginia Tech's first play, a 44-yard pass from Logan Thomas to Dyrell Roberts, was something Pitt had seen on film, but that things got better from there in the secondary.
"The first play of the game, we had repped that play, repped that play, knew it was coming and Jason Hendricks was just a step or two late in the recognition of it," Huxtable said. "For the most part, I was pretty pleased with the coverage. We were tighter in the coverage. We had bodies on bodies."
- Hendricks said he noticed the run defense in front of him stepping up against the Hokies. For the most part, like all his teammates have said, it was just a matter of guys knowing where they needed to be on particular plays.
"We were more aggressive and people were in the right spots," Hendricks said. "Finally we had people fitting in the right gaps. It just felt like it was all coming together."
- Ray Graham said he hopefully plans to take his knee brace off at some point this season. He made a point to the media Wednesday that, even though he's playing with a brace, he is completely healthy. There were some rumors circulating on Twitter before Saturday's game that he might not be ready to go, and it seemed like he wanted to nip those in the bud.
"I’m good to go," he said. "You won’t have to worry about me saying 'I’m not going,' or this and that."
That's all for now, folks. I'll be back tomorrow with Paul Chryst's final Gardner-Webb update, and don't forget to join me in my weekly Pitt football chat at noon tomorrow on post-gazette.com/chat.