We got a chance to talk to Pitt players over the last couple of days to get their thoughts on bouncing back from last week's gut-wrenching loss to Notre Dame, and how they plan to move forward to UConn Friday night. Here are just a couple of things they had to say about moving forward from the triple-overtime heartbreaker.
- Linebacker Todd Thomas, like most players, said that while Saturday's loss stung a little bit more than most, there's nothing Pitt can do at this point except learn from the film and get ready for its final three games.
"I’m a little upset, the team’s upset, but we’ve got to move forward," Thomas said. "Notre Dame’s a helluva team, a disciplined team. I guess they just went out and got it done."
More so, a lot of the players we spoke to this week talked about using the experience of going toe-to-toe with the No. 4 team in the country as a confidence bosster going forward. I think anyone who watched Saturday's game would agree that if the Panthers play like that every week, they've got a very good shot at winning their last three games. Unfortunately, a lot of players also mentioned that Pitt has had a tendency to play to its competition this season. Sometimes, like Saturday, that's a good thing. Other times (see: Youngstown State), it's not. Pitt's goal coming out of this week should be to isolate what exactly it was that allowed them to be successful against the Irish and do those things the rest of the season, regardless of the opponent.
"My confidence level is usually pretty steady regardless of good game, bad game. It was fun to go in there, give them our best shot," center Ryan Turnley said. "Coming out of the game, I think everyone knows that we still have a lot of things we could’ve done better. That’s encouraging, going into the UConn game. Looking at that [Notre Dame] game, seeing how close we were and saying, 'Man we could’ve played so much better even still.'"
- I thought Turnley had some pretty interesting insight as to why Pitt was able to run the ball against Notre Dame more effectively than pretty much any other team this season. Basically, he said that Pitt's offensive line was much more aggressive against the Irish linebackers than anyone else had been. That's a task that's easier said than done against Notre Dame's stout defensive line, but aided by Irish defensive tackle Louis Nix's bout of the flu, Pitt was able to move onto the second level in their blocking schemes quite a bit.
"One of the keys was we saw on film that nobody was really aggressive with them, with their linebackers, especially," Turnley said. "They let them run free, they didn’t get after their legs at all and get up in their face, too. They let them run free. The d-line does a great job of allowing that to happen, but we made that an emphasis for the game and it worked out alright."
- Sticking with the offensive line, first-time starter at right guard Arthur Doakes remained relatively anonymous for most of the game and, for an offensive lineman, that's a good thing. The only time I noticed Doakes was on Pitt's first series in overtime, when he was flagged for a false start. Other than that, I thought he did a good job filling in for Ryan Schlieper, and the other offensive linemen agree.
"He got after it a few times," left guard Chris Jacobson said. "I saw him hit Te’o in the chin a couple of times. Doakes did well. I’m proud of him for stepping in there. It’s so loud there, too."
- Ray Graham said he didn't come into the game necessarily expecting to get all but one carry, but wasn't too surprised by it. Freshman Rushel Shell was limited to his lowest carry total since Syracuse, when he missed most of the week of practice. There's no indication that Shell was hurt this week, rather, Graham was just having one of the best days of his career.
"[Paul Chryst] says he rides his horse. Whoever’s going, he’s going to go with him," Graham said. "I think when I came out the first play [a 55-yard run], he saw something was coming out of that. Different backs are good, nothing wrong with one back carrying the load."
- I wrote in today's paper about middle linebacker Joe Trebitz (once you get through all the election stuff), who played very well Saturday with a team-high 13 tackles. It looks like Shane Gordon is working his way back into practice this week (Gordon actually did have one play against Notre Dame, a powerful goal-line tackle of Irish running back Theo Riddick for a third-down stop), so he might be back in the starting lineup for UConn this week. Regardless, Trebitz showed that he really is a trustworth option if they want to spell Gordon or work him back into the lineup slowly.