Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary makes one of his three touchdown catches Monday night against Pitt.
By Sam Werner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After having two full days to watch and digest film of Pitt's season-opening loss to Florida State, Panthers coach Paul Chryst readily admitted that his team has some work to do on defense.
The numbers tell all you really need to know. Pitt gave up 533 total yards to the Seminoles and forced first-time starting quarterback Jameis Winston into just two incomplete passes. Florida State was 7 of 11 on third-down conversions and held the ball for 35 minutes, 8 seconds to Pitt's 24:52.
Still, when Chryst and his staff delved into the film, they didn't see a team outclassed by its opponent, but one making sloppy mistakes in the first game of the season.
"Certainly, we didn't play as well as we wanted to play defensively against Florida State," Chryst said. "But we're not flinching either.
"I know the areas that we can get better at. Our coaches know that, our players know that and I believe if we correct those things, we will be better. All those things, we're not asking anybody to do anything that is out of their skill set."
Pitt's secondary may be its most experienced unit, with returning starters Lafayette Pitts, K'Waun Williams and Jason Hendricks, but the Panthers also had five players -- including freshmen Titus Howard and Terrish Webb -- make their debuts in the defensive backfield Monday night.
Defensive coordinator Matt House, promoted from secondary coach in the offseason, said he liked what he saw out of the newcomers.
"The freshmen that played in the secondary aren't the reason that we didn't play well on defense," he said. "They may not have played the perfect game, but we had a lot of people that [didn't]."
Pitt cornerback K'Waun Williams said the defense breakdowns were caused by missed assignments and execution, rather than any flaw in the scheme.
House also downplayed the notion that the Panthers' coverage against Florida State's receivers was too soft.
"I know that's an easy blanket statement to make, but it's not necessarily the situation that was happening on the field," he said.
Often against the Seminoles, the Pitt defense relied on linebackers in pass coverage, and that unit also struggled to make life difficult for the Florida State receivers.
One player who could impact that position group, Todd Thomas, saw limited playing time Monday night.
He played most in situational packages and recorded only one tackle.
Thomas is a unique athletic talent but appears to still be working his way back into the coaches' good graces after quitting the team for a week early in training camp.
"He's just like anybody else," House said. "He's got to earn the right."
While the back end of Pitt's defense struggled to keep tabs on the Seminole receivers, the front didn't do much to make life difficult in the pocket for Winston. Pitt managed just two sacks on the night and often took players out of pass coverage with blitzes that House admitted were not effective.
"Truthfully, when we blitzed, we didn't land our blitzes," House said. "We had some mis-executions in the coverage when we blitzed. When we rushed four, I did think that that was the one encouraging thing that there were some times where we applied pressure with just a four-man rush."
House also admitted that he can do better with his play calls, specifically pointing to a 3rd-and-17 in the second quarter that Florida State converted en route to a touchdown. The score was just 14-10 at the time, but Winston found receiver Rashad Greene on a seam route over the middle, and Pitt safety Ray Vinopal couldn't quite get there in time to blow the play up.
"Third-and-17, I could make a better call and we've got to execute a little bit better," House said.
Williams said he's aware of the perception of the Panther defense after one game and is eager to show that the unit is closer to the one that finished 17th in the country last season, not the one that sparked Winston's Heisman Trophy campaign Monday night.
"That put a little chip on our shoulders to pick it up," Williams said. "We've got to step up and make plays."