It can be an overused sports cliche, but for the past two weeks "learning how to win" has been the reality for Pitt.
The 24-17 loss Friday to Connecticut was Pitt's second consecutive one-score defeat, and third of the season.
"I think a play here or there does make a difference, but you've got to learn how to make those plays," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said on the Big East coaches conference call Monday morning.
"Sometimes those plays are in the first half, sometimes they're in the third quarter, sometimes they're at the end, sometimes they're in overtime. What makes it tough is, I feel like at times, we're learning from these things, and sometimes we need to go through it again to learn."
While Pitt's triple overtime loss to Notre Dame 10 days ago came down to a few plays at the end, the Panthers lost Friday's game against the Huskies when they fell behind, 24-0, in the first half.
After the game, running back Ray Graham and quarterback Tino Sunseri said the team came out sluggish and flat in the first half. On Monday, Chryst took his share of the responsibility, but also noted that players need to find some self-motivation.
"We've got to create a culture of guys [who] are appreciative and enjoy the opportunity to play each game and that starts with me helping them get there," Chryst said. "You've got to be ready. To take the game for granted, or to not be excited to play, we've got to change that thinking."
The Panthers will have an extra week to think about the loss to the Huskies before they take the field again. Pitt has an open date this weekend before a Nov. 24 date against Rutgers, now alone in first place in the Big East.
Chryst said the team will practice today through Thursday this week and add in some off-field workouts Friday before the weekend.
For some players, the off week will also be a chance to get healthy. Chryst was optimistic that tight end Hubie Graham and safety Jason Hendricks, both of whom left the game against Connecticut, will be ready to go when the team returns to action.
Despite the uneven results on the scoreboard, Pitt has been remarkably consistent with its ball security this season.
The game against Connecticut was its fifth consecutive contest without a turnover. Their last giveaway came Oct. 5, when tight end Drew Carswell lost a fumble against Syracuse.
It was also Sunseri's seventh game in a row without throwing an interception. He hasn't thrown an interception since Pitt's win Sept. 15 against Virginia Tech, and has just two this season.
Pitt ranks No. 18 in Division I-A with a plus-8 turnover margin.
ESPN announced Monday that Pitt's game against Rutgers Nov. 24 will kick off at noon and be televised on either ESPN or ESPN2. The network will decide late Saturday which outlet will air the game.
It will be Pitt's third noon home kickoff of the season. The Panthers' Oct. 13 game against Louisville started at 11 a.m.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published November 13, 2012 5:45 AM