With no opponent to prepare for this weekend, Pitt coach Paul Chryst said he plans to use the week of practice to focus on how his team can improve.
Chryst said a goal will be to reduce the number of penalties. Through four games, Pitt (2-2) ranks 87th in Division I-A with 7.5 flags per game, costing them 69.75 yards per contest.
"We want to be a team that isn't penalized," Chryst said after the Panthers' 55-10 win Saturday against Gardner-Webb. "We want to play within the rules."
As the team has turned things around from its 0-2 start, penalties are one aspect of play that has gotten worse for the Panthers the past two weeks. In the season-opening losses to Youngstown State and Cincinnati, Pitt averaged five penalties a game for 46 yards. In the wins against Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb, it was 10 flags a game for 93.5 yards.
Chryst said that there are a number of ways coaches can try to reduce penalties in practice. In most team drills, for example, Chryst will almost always enforce penalties by moving the ball the required number of yards.
"It's teaching," he said. "Take a look at the penalties, what's causing them. Some of them are just bringing your feet with you.
"It's concentration, jumping off[side]. Whatever it is, you try to address it and come back to your fundamentals a lot of times."
It hasn't come back to haunt them, but the Panthers have struggled in the field-goal kicking department.
Kevin Harper is 4 of 7 on the season, making just 50 percent of his kicks from longer than 30 yards. Chryst, though, said it is about more than one player.
Field goals are a combination of snapper Kevin Barthelemy, holder Matt Yoklic and Harper all nailing their assignments.
"That's the beautiful thing, that it's a three-man battery there, and they've got to all be in sync," Chryst said.
"I think there's chemistry there in the sense that they're all going to take ownership of their role, but together they've got to get the job done. Not one certain thing is causing it, you've just got to keep moving forward, you know?"
Chryst said the team also will adjust its practice schedule slightly for the open week. The Panthers will practice today and Thursday, then coaches will take the weekend to do some recruiting trips while the players are off.
"We'll kind of do a combination," Chryst said. "Right now, the focus is on this team and how can we get better."
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published September 26, 2012 4:00 AM