Yes, it’s true that Pitt has won seven games in a row against Syracuse, by an average of margin of nearly 17 points.
Yes, it’s true that Syracuse has played poorly this season, in terms of penalties and turnovers — fixable mistakes, in other words.
And, yes, Pitt is actually a road favorite — as many as 3 1/2 points if you look hard enough.
But Friday’s game in the Carrier Dome won’t be easy for the Panthers, whose young defense started to come together in the past two games, but has a long way to go.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib has looked good in his first four games, three of which were against BCS teams with a combined record of 13-2. If Pitt can pressure Nassib such as it did against Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (a better NFL prospect than Nassib, by the way), that will decide the game in the Panthers’ favor.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s return to good health — he missed the Gardner-Webb game with what appeared to be minor knee injury — is one of the big keys.
Something else I’ll be looking at tonight is the expected return of outside linebacker Todd Thomas, the Panthers’ most athletic defender when he’s healthy. (OK, equal to Donald.)
Thomas had knee surgery 10 months ago, but coach Paul Chryst sounded hopeful that he will be ready to play Friday. Wisely, he gave Thomas an extra two weeks to rest and recover when he kept him sidelined against Gardner-Webb.
I can’t guarantee Thomas will return tonight (I lost my key to the trainer’s file cabinet), but I’ll say this — Pitt needs him before too long. He is Pitt’s best linebacker.
Meanwhile, Pitt is on the brink of becoming a big story around town.
A victory against Syracuse gives the Panthers (2-2) a winning record and sets up a Homecoming showdown against nationally ranked Louisville (No. 19) Oct. 13 at Heinz Field.
And, sorry, the 11 a.m. kickoff time is not a big deal. Those fans who complained also don’t like noon starts, but they’ll get over it. Start the grill an hour earlier. It’s not that hard to figure out.
Pitt will take the tradeoff in terms of TV exposure, and I can assure you there is nothing Chryst cares about less than when the game starts. He’s like the groom who says, `Tell me what time I need to be at the church, and I’ll take care of the rest.’
If Pitt somehow finds a way to beat Syracuse and Louisville, then it’s non-conference Buffalo of the MAC and Temple. Dare we say it? 6-2 heading into Notre Dame?
Whoa! Slow down!
I won’t go that far — 5-3 is more likely and 4-4 wouldn’t be a shock. After all, the Youngstown State game was only a month ago, and Chryst would be the first to tell you his team still has plenty to prove.
But Pitt has an opportunity to stand up and be noticed. It starts tonight.
The College Locker Room
Yes, it’s true that Pitt has won seven games in a row against Syracuse, by an average of margin of nearly 17 points.
Cranford (N.J.) quarterback Reggie Green committed to Pitt on Tuesday, first calling coach Paul Chryst with the news and then posting on Twitter: “Officially committed to the University of Pittsburgh. Hail to Pitt!!!!”
Green is a quarterback at Cranford, but Pitt recruited him as an athlete who has a stated preference for offense. At 6-3, 205, he probably will settle at wide receiver, giving coach Paul Chryst the kind of size he likes in his pass catchers.
He also can run, leading Cranford to a state championship last year with a 41-yard touchdown. This season, he has thrown only 37 times in four games, but he has rushed for 591 yards and seven touchdowns.
– Green’s acceptance of a scholarship from Pitt was triggered by his visit during the weekend of the Virginia Tech game. If Pitt can somehow defeat Louisville next week, the victory could have a similar effect. But a big victory isn’t necessary. Charlotte (N.C.) cornerback Anthony Covington committed two days after the loss to Youngstown State.
– Most impressive is how Green pledged to attend Pitt after Rutgers — right in his backyard — also had offered, along with Michigan State, North Carolina State and Boston College.
– Meanwhile, Green is Pitt’s 18th recruit from the Class of 2013, with at least one player from each position group, led by three defensive backs.
– Anyone accusing Pitt of focusing too much on Western Pennsylvania can stop. Only five of the 18 attend or attended schools in the area. They are defensive lineman Tyrique Jarrett of Allderdice and Milford (N.Y.) Academy, South Fayette wide receiver Zach Challingsworth, Seton-La Salle tight end Scott Orndoff, Gateway tight end Jaymar Parrish and Clairton cornerback Titus Howard.
– Interesting quote from redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts on the team’s recovery from an 0-2 start: “It seems like we are more focused and ready to play. At the beginning of the season, it seemed like we thought everything was going to be handed to us. But we are actually working now.”
– Pitts admitted he cut into traffic on his 64-yard kickoff return against Gardner-Webb, but he remains first in the Big East and seventh in the nation with an average of 33.5 yards. Pitt said he had 11 returns for touchdowns at Woodland Hills (punts and kickoffs), with eight coming in his junior season until most teams wised up and kicked away from him.
Pitt fans were buzzing last weekend when running back Corey Clement amassed epic numbers for his high school team in Glassboro, N.J.
Clement, who verbally committed to Pitt nearly four months ago and has not de-committed, carried only 15 times, but he made them count — did he ever! — for a South Jersey-record 476 yards and seven touchdowns. That accounted for nearly all of Glassboro’s scoring in a 45-23 victory against Gloucester City.
After the game, which carried him past 4,700 career yards, Clement, 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, spoke to fans and repeated his commitment to Pitt. He also has expressed a desire to enroll in January, so he would be available for spring drills and get a jump on his freshman season.
But that hasn’t stopped him from considering other offers. Two weeks ago, he attended the Michigan-Notre Dame game in South Bend and talked about what it would take to flip his commitment.
“I don’t know what it might take, but something would really have to wow me,” Clement told the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune. “I think Notre Dame has something to offer that might wow me, so if it aligns with that through observing them, there could be a possible chance of me taking a step back from Pitt … I know Pitt isn’t the only school out there.”
Since the visit, Clement has been quiet about his recruitment, but he previously has drawn serious interest from Penn State, Ohio State, Florida State, Iowa, Nebraska and West Virginia.
If Clement’s talents transfer to the collegiate level, he would give Pitt a solid trio of runnning backs in 2013 — one marquee runner from the junior (Isaac Bennett), sophomore (Rushel Shell) and freshman classes.
My guess is Clement’s recruitment is far from over.
Pitt, which also has successfully recruited New Jersey backs Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, has the edge at the moment. But who knows for how long?
My guess is continued success by the varsity will make Pitt even more attractive to recruits, including Clement, whose profile on Twitter still says, “Verbally Committed to the University of Pittsburgh. #PITT”
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the Glassboro stats on Friday nights.
Pitt defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said senior Andrew Taglianetti will replace injured nickel back Jamahl Pardner on passing downs the rest of the season. Pardner, a freshman, will have season-ending knee surgery Friday.
I’ll admit the biggest surprise for me this season — before the relatively easy victory against Virginia Tech — was Taglianetti disappearing from the field (other than special teams) after safeties Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks shook their preseason injuries.
But Holley and Hendricks made several big plays against Virginia Tech, putting their vast experience to good use.
Hendricks, who had one interception in 22 previous games, had two against the Hokies. Holley is never in the wrong place, and he also has a pick. No other Pitt player has an interception this season.
Pitt is fortunate to have a tough, smart player such as Taglianetti available when injuries surface. Meanwhile, Huxtable said he is hopeful Pardner will be ready to go next spring.
– The tiny town of Boiling Springs, N.C., has fewer than 5,000 people, but it does have the Internet. So, I’m guessing this little nugget from Hendricks will find its way into the football locker room at Gardner-Webb University.
Asked about G-W quarterback Lucas Beatty, Hendricks said: “He’s a decent quarterback. He has a strong arm. It feels like we can get some pressure on him, make him make some bad decisions.”
Truth be told, if the defenses of FCS schools Wofford, Richmond and Samford can rattle Beatty, Pitt should be able to do the same. Beatty has thrown three interceptions and been sacked nine times while G-W has been outscored, 119-38.
– By the way, has anyone noticed that Youngstown State followed up its victory against Pitt by beating Valparaiso, 59-0, and Albany, 31-24? Also, YSU moved up to No. 4 in The Sports Network FCS college football poll.
Tino Sunseri was named Big East offensive player of the week after throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns against Virginia Tech, but Pitt coach Paul Chryst made a point of emphasizing that football is a team sport.
“He earned being named Big East player of the week, absolutely earned it,” Chryst said, “but yet he didn’t do one thing on his own out there.”
– Sunseri was among several Pitt players who were bothered by injuries before, during and after the game, but refused to sit down.
“(Wide receiver) Mike Shanahan was pretty banged up, too; a couple of linemen were pretty banged up. I know (defensive tackle) Aaron Donald was playing hurt. (Defensive end) Bryan Murphy played hurt. You appreciate guys who put themselves out there, but (Sunseri) was not alone.”
– Chryst praised the play of freshman tight end J.P. Holtz, who started in place of Hubie Graham (clavicle) and recovered a Shell fumble in the third quarter. “We developed a little depth at tight end,” Chryst said.
– Pitt plays Gardner-Webb on Saturday at Heinz Field in its second game this season against an FCS school. It is a one-year aberration on the Panthers’ schedule, due to the breakup of the Big East. Nice trade: Gardner-Webb for West Virginia. The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 0-3 and lost, 41-8, at Richmond. West Virginia is the eighth-ranked team in the nation.
– Gardner-Webb is coached by Ron Dickerson Jr., the son of former Pitt assistant Ron Dickerson (1979-1980). The younger Dickerson coached Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace at Mississippi.
Some Pitt thoughts, with 25 percent of the regular season gone:
– There wasn’t much talk about the offensive line after the 35-17 victory against No. 13 Virginia Tech, so let’s correct that.
Several times when quarterback Tino Sunseri dropped back to pass, he was given a comfortable pocket in which to operate. He was sacked only once after Cincinnati dropped him six times.
Some holes for running backs Ray Graham and Rushel Shell were stunningly wide. That’s how you accumulate 537 yards of total offense.
Senior offensive linemen Ryan Turnley and Chris Jacobson are playing well, but — more importantly — are setting a standard in terms of work ethic that has helped younger players Matt Rotheram, Cory King and Ryan Schlieper.
Keep ‘em all healthy, and Pitt might have a chance to build a powerful running game.
– I asked Sunseri if the victory was his biggest in 29 starts at Pitt. He surprised me a bit when he said, “I’m not sure.” No embellishment, banter or speculation at all.
I didn’t know what to make of that answer. Either he didn’t want to get caught up in reflecting on his career and putting labels on one victory (he is, after all, the son of a coach); or, he had enough of the interview and wanted to go home.
I thought I’d help Sunseri put the victory in perspective, so I looked back at his previous 14 victims, and couldn’t find one — not even last year’s South Florida game — in which he played so well against a difficult opponent.
Here are the schools Pitt defeated with Sunseri at quarterback (before Saturday): New Hampshire, Florida International, Buffalo, Maine, Syracuse (twice), Rutgers, Louisville (twice), South Florida (twice), Cincinnati, Connecticut and Kentucky.
Sorry, Tino, Virginia Tech is your biggest. Just in case, you were wondering.
Of course, Saturday’s victory can be trumped if Pitt goes on to win the Big East, something that looked like a dream as recently as Saturday morning and now appears possible, if not probable.
– When Trib columnist Joe Starkey asked Sunseri to describe his feelings after what was, at least, a satisfying victory and, at best, a historic moment in his career, Sunseri said:
“I’m just ready to get out of here and go watch my dad play.”
Dad is former Pitt All-American linebacker Sal Sunseri, the defensive coordinator of Tennessee, which was playing Florida on Saturday night.
– One more Tino note: It was obvious he played much of the fourth quarter with a painful shin injury, but he had no intention of coming out of the game, although I did see backup Trey Anderson inching toward the field at one point.
Asked about the injury, Sunseri never batted an eye and said, “I’m fine.”
Then, he grabbed his crutches and walked away.
– Something said by wide receiver Devin Street might help explain Sunseri’s attitude toward the media and outsiders in general (none of whom have been especially kind to the Pitt football program in the past two years).
Said Street: “We are all we have, and I think we realized that today. We’ve been through a lot the last couple years, but (Saturday), we just stuck together.”
– By the way, Mike Shanahan and Street are playing well. Shanahan leads the Panthers with 16 receptions for 224 yards and a touchdown; Street’s numbers are 13, 178 and 1. I especially liked Street’s 13-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. While on the run toward the back of the end zone, he initially looked over his right shoulder, couldn’t find the football, quickly switched his head to the left and made the catch that gave Pitt a 14-0 lead.
– Pitt’s defense showed up Saturday, getting four turnovers and showing a little depth. Redshirt freshman Devin Cook made his first career start after playing most of the summer as a backup and forced a fumble, hurried the quarterback and led all linemen with five tackles. Also, fifth-year senior outside linebacker Manny Williams started for the first time and recorded two pass break-ups.
– Graham continues to astound with his recovery from knee surgery. He scored three touchdowns and ran for 94 yards after word had been circulated before the game that he might not play.
Graham’s three touchdowns are nowhere close to the 102-year-old school record of six (Norman Bill Budd against Ohio in 1910).
– One final statistical note: Pitt was 23 short of having a 300-yard passer, two 100-yard rushers and one 100-yard receiver. Rushel Shell rushed for 157 while Graham had 94, Sunseri threw for 283 and Shanahan had 111 in receptions.
– Pitt’s 537 yards of total offense (283 passing, 254 rushing) marked its best single-game production since getting 584 against Boston College in 2000. The Panthers surpassed 520 twice last season against South Florida (523)and Connecticut (529).
Walking into Heinz Field today, the sun is shining and Pitt band was playing the alma mater — nice game-day atmosphere.
Sideline filled with recruits, which makes today’s game vitally important to coach Paul Chryst, and not just because Pitt is trying to avoid only its third 0-3 start in 40 years.
Chryst must show recruits that his team can compete with the best teams in the country, and there is no better place to start than future ACC opponent Virginia Tech.
Back in the day, Pitt knew how to beat this team. Walt Harris was 4-3 against the Hokies, including a three-game winning streak from 2001-2003. I was in the stands as a patron that night when Lousaka Polite scored the winning touchdown for the Panthers of Larry Fitzgerald.
This, of course, is a different Pitt team, a different Pitt program. Chryst is trying to rebuild a program that has been handcuffed by repeated coaching changes and, now, injuries.
The word in the press box is that Ray Graham is experiencing some soreness in his surgically repaired right knee and is no sure bet to play. He is on the field, warming up, as I write this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Chryst decides to opt for the cautious approach and keep a close eye on Graham’s carries (if he plays at all).
There is nothing wrong with Pitt that two or three good recruiting classes won’t fix. You think you can wait that long?
Another month of training camp wouldn’t hurt, either.
After watching the first two games of the season (opponents 65, Pitt 27), it appears the Panthers need more practice time, better players and several favorable bounces to reverse their current run of misfortune.
Here are some of the outrageous numbers:
– 845 total yards, including 463 on the ground.
– 17 of 29 third downs converted into first downs.
– Eight touchdowns.
– No interceptions or fumble recoveries.
That’s just the defense.
And then there’s this:
– A record of 0-2 for the first time since 2005 (former coach Dave Wannstedt’s first season). Pitt hadn’t lost a Big East opener since 2007.
Coach Paul Chryst knew he had a lot of work to do to rebuild the program. He has just as much to do to salvage this season.
I can’t say I was surprised that Pitt lost to Cincinnati, 34-10, Thursday night. The Panthers have such a long way to go on defense and no killer instinct on offense.
But I was surprised that Chryst kept safety Andrew Taglianetti out of the lineup, except for special teams, for most of the game.
In training camp, Taglianetti was the one player with the ability to make big plays. He wasn’t perfect against Youngstown State, but he’s also a senior who plays with toughness and intelligence. Pitt could use some more of that.
Chryst started Taglianetti and Ray Vinopal at safety last week, replacing them with Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks in Cincinnati.
Does he plan to alternate the pair of safeties in every game to keep the opposing offense guessing, trying to get any edge he can for his leaky defense?
If that’s his plan, I get it. Don’t like it. But I get it.
Sunseri, Chryst and clock mismanagement
Something else that surprised me:
Quarterback Tino Sunseri letting the clock run out at the end of the first half.
Here’s the situation: Five seconds to go, football at the 2, Pitt down, 17-0. Pitt needs a touchdown desperately.
Surely, Sunseri knows there is no time to waste. Take the snap, drop back quickly and throw. Make sure you save a second to kick the field goal or try another throw.
Instead, Sunseri hesitated before throwing the ball incomplete in the direction of Mike Shanahan. The ball went through the back of the end zone as the clock expired. Chryst also said a few too many seconds were wasted in the previous play.
In the end, the play had no significance in the outcome of the game. If Pitt had scored a touchdown or field goal, the defense, which already had allowed 17 points, still would have given up 17 more in the second half.
But for someone who watches as much video as Sunseri does and is making his 28th consecutive start in his fifth season at Pitt, you would think he would be a little smarter in those situations. Chryst also is not blameless. Pitt went to the locker room with a timeout that it never used.
This is a Pitt team that can’t afford to give up scoring chances, but it moved into Cincinnati territory on five consecutive possessions in the second and third quarters and ended up punting, throwing an interception, letting the half expire, kicking a field goal and punting.
On the run
I’ll tell you what I do like: The running backs.
Ray Graham, Rushel Shell and Isaac Bennett totaled 32 carries for 158 yards. They added eight receptions for 93.
Graham is only 10 months removed from knee surgery, and he surpassed the 100-yard mark (103) for the eighth time in his career. I’m sure his knee aches, but he has carried 33 times in two games. There aren’t many braver, tougher players in college football.
He’s a senior, but Shell and Bennett — a freshman and a sophomore — give Pitt some hope for the future.
Where’s the penalty?
By the way, I watched the holding call on guard Chris Jacobson that wiped out a touchdown run by Graham in the first half. Maybe the fuzzy picture on the press box TV in Nippert Stadium threw me off, but I didn’t see Jacobson hold. I’ll have to look at it again.
Do prospective recruits make their ultimate decisions based on how the season goes for the school chasing them? If Pitt can’t improve enough to finish .500, will it lose recruits? Or, will they see a chance to play immediately?
The long wait is over for Pitt’s 2012-13 basketball schedule.
Pitt’s final season in the Big East features a possible Thanksgiving trip to Madison Square Garden, and home games against Connecticut, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Villanova.
But the schedule also could feature not one major conference non-Big East opponent and for the first time in 96 years, there’s no Backyard Brawl.
As part of its 31-game slate, released Wednesday, the Panthers will play an 18-game Big East schedule, meeting each team once and Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette and Villanova two times each.
After that, there are few chances at RPI-building wins out of conference. The ACC-bound Panthers, left out of the Big East/SEC Challenge, are competing in the Preseason NIT – its only opportunity for a marquee victory outside the Big East. The semifinals and finals are Nov. 21 and Nov. 23 in New York against — provided the host schools advance — Michigan, Virginia or Kansas State.
But host schools aren’t guaranteed a spot at the Garden. Pitt first must win two preliminary home games Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 against two opponents that will likely come from a group including Fordham, Lehigh and Robert Morris. If Pitt fails to advance, they would host two additional Preseason NIT games on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20 – and have no chance at a win over a quality BCS non-conference opponent.
Pitt will open its Big East schedule at noon on New Year’s Eve against visiting Cincinnati at Petersen Events Center. Coach Jamie Dixon’s Panthers host Connecticut on Jan. 19 and Syracuse, a likely top-10 preseason team, on Feb. 2.
Some of Pitt’s top road games include at Cincinnati on Feb. 9 in a potential ESPN College GameDay broadcast, and at Louisville, the early Big East favorite and a likely preseason top-5 team for the 2012-13 season, on Jan. 28.
For the first time since 1916-17, Pitt will not play West Virginia, in its first season in the Big 12. The two have played 184 times dating to 1903.
Pitt will open its regular season against Mount St. Mary’s on Nov. 9 at Petersen Events Center. Pitt’s 13-game nonconference schedule also includes Oakland, Howard, Detroit, North Florida, Bethune-Cookman, Delaware State and Kennesaw State.
The annual City Game against Duquesne is Wednesday, Dec. 5 at Consol Energy Center. .
Pitt, which went 22-17 last season and saw its run of 10 consecutive NCAA berths come to an end, returns three starters, seven of its top nine scorers and welcomes a top-10 recruiting class.
The Panthers have exhibition games against Indiana (Pa.) on Oct. 26 and Hawaii-Hilo on Nov. 2.
2012-13 PITT MEN’S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
Date Opponent (TV) Time
Friday, Oct. 26 INDIANA (PA.) (Exh.) TBA
Friday, Nov. 2 HAWAII-HILO (Exh.) TBA
Friday, Nov. 9 MOUNT ST. MARY’S TBA
Preseason NIT (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
*Monday, Nov. 12 TBA TBA
*Tuesday, Nov. 13 TBA TBA
Saturday, Nov. 17 OAKLAND TBA
Preseason NIT (New York, N.Y.)
*Wednesday, Nov. 21 Semifinal (ESPN2/ESPNU) TBA-Madison Square Garden TBA
*Friday, Nov. 23 Championship/Consolation (ESPN) TBA-Madison Square Garden TBA
Host schools: Pitt, Michigan, Virginia, Kansas State
(*Note: Pitt must win in order to advance to New York. If it does not advance, it will host two Preseason NIT games
on both Monday, Nov. 19 and Tuesday, Nov. 20 at the Petersen Events Center)
Tuesday, Nov. 27 HOWARD TBA
Saturday, Dec. 1 DETROIT BA
Wednesday, Dec. 5 vs. Duquesne# TBA
Saturday, Dec. 8 NORTH FLORIDA TBA
Saturday, Dec. 15 BETHUNE-COOKMAN TBA
Wednesday, Dec. 19 DELAWARE STATE TBA
Sunday, Dec. 23 KENNESAW STATE TBA
Monday, Dec. 31 *CINCINNATI (ESPN2) Noon
Saturday, Jan. 5 at *Rutgers (ESPN2) 11 a.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 8 at *Georgetown (ESPNU) 9 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 12 *MARQUETTE (ESPNU) Noon
Wednesday, Jan. 16 at *Villanova (ESPNU) 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 19 *CONNECTICUT (ESPN2) Noon
Tuesday, Jan. 22 at *Providence (ESPN2) 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 26 *DEPAUL TBA
Monday, Jan. 28 at *Louisville (ESPN) 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 2 *SYRACUSE (ESPN) Noon
Monday, Feb. 4 *SETON HALL (ESPNU) 9 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 9 at *Cincinnati (ESPN/ESPN2) TBA
Saturday, Feb. 16 at *Marquette (CBS) 1 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 18 *NOTRE DAME (ESPN) 7 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 24 at *St. John’s (MSG) TBA
Wednesday, Feb. 27 *SOUTH FLORIDA TBA
Sunday, March 3 *VILLANOVA TBA
Saturday, March 9 at *DePaul TBA
Tue.-Sat., March 12-16 at Big East Championship (ESPN)
# — at Consol Energy Center
All Times Eastern. All home games in CAPS and BOLD. Television games in parentheses. All game times are subject to change.
*indicates Big East Conference games.
All home games played in the Petersen Events Center.
You can point to many negative plays, decisions and trends in Pitt’s embarrassing 31-17 loss to Youngstown State on Saturday night.
– How about allowing the Penguins to rush for 204 yards?
– How about Pitt’s failure to gain 3 yards on two running plays from inside the YSU 25-yard line in the third quarter?
– How about creating no turnovers while coughing up two, one at the Penguins’ 10, the other at the 24?
– How about no sacks for the first time in two years?
– How about a passing game that never got in sync?
Those elements of the game are important, and reversing a couple in Pitt’s favor could have made Youngstown State sweat out this victory, instead of winning by two touchdowns and barely getting threatened after the midway point of the third quarter.
But nothing that happened inside Heinz Field is remotely close in significance to what happened outside of it in the 24 hours before kickoff.
Six players were suspended by coach Paul Chryst for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. They included starting nose tackle Tyrone Ezell, who had played well in camp, and freshman running back Rushel Shell, the team’s most heralded recruit this year. The others are senior defensive end Shayne Hale, sophomore wide receiver Ronald Jones, sophomore safety Anthony Gonzalez and freshman wide receiver Chris Davis.
The fact that Chryst was forced to take disciplinary action against six players only hours before the first game of his coaching tenure had to disappoint him more than anything he saw between the lines when the game started.
That makes seven players suspended by Chryst since the start of training camp, including offensive tackle Juantez Hollins, who is out for the season.
Chryst wouldn’t say what any of those players did, or if any of the six will play Thursday in Cincinnati.
But even if the indiscretions were nothing more than curfew violations, Chryst sent a message. Stay in line or don’t bother getting back in line.
“That is one area in this program that will not be sacrificed, and we are going to hold guys accountable for it,” he said. “We will not plan on talking anymore about it. We have a family, and we have some matters we have to take care of and we did.”
Call it putting down another block in the reconstruction of a football program – an apparently painful process.
One last (football) thought:
I’m not going to criticize Chryst for not attempting a field goal with his team down by 11 points and six minutes left in the third quarter. Good teams – or teams that aspire to be so – convert those situations into first downs and touchdowns.
He stubbornly believed his team could gain 3 yards on two plays, get the first down and go on to score a touchdown and put the heat on Youngstown State.
He also didn’t want to give the football back to his opponent without taking a big bite out of the lead because he didn’t trust his defense to stop the Penguins’ offense.
“Part of it was the way Youngstown was moving the ball,” he said. “I didn’t feel like we were going to get a lot of possessions.”
I don’t blame Chryst for not trusting his defense. It allowed an FCS team to successfully convert 11 of 16 third downs and two of three red-zone possessions into touchdowns.
Pitt fans, you can complain all you want about the quarterback, but until Chryst fixes his defense, the team will struggle.