In one of the times Pitt was able to get a stop, Aaron Donald sacks Duke quarterback Brandon Connette Saturday in Durham, N.C.
By Sam Werner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House was asked how he thought his unit performed in the Panthers' 58-55 victory Saturday against Duke, he had a simple response:
"Thank God, we didn't give up 59."
True, the Panthers came away with a wild victory in their first Atlantic Coast Conference road game, but the fact that the defense gave up 55 points underscored that some of the issues from the opener against Florida State (in which Pitt allowed 41 points) might not be solved.
Pitt safety Jason Hendricks said Tuesday it was, in part, some of the same issues cropping up again that hurt the Panthers against Duke.
"It was just us, honestly," Hendricks said. "Wrong alignments, not sure where we need to be. Bad eyes, again."
Hendricks also noted that Pitt was moving to a new system under first-year coordinator House, and that has led to major adjustments.
Linebacker Todd Thomas, usually an outside linebacker, said there are some plays this year where he has to line up as the middle linebacker.
"I think that's a fair statement," House said when asked if there were changes for the linebackers this year. "We're still a 4-3 for the most part on first and second down. We do a lot more three [down linemen] stuff on third down than we did previously."
Safety Ray Vinopal said he also has different responsibilities this season in a secondary that is using more zone coverages this season.
"Instead of chasing guys all over the field, the idea is you pass it to the guys closer to you and that stuff," Vinopal said. "Passing off routes and stuff like that, it can take time to develop the feel of your teammates and how everyone plays to make that happen efficiently, but it's a good deal."
Many Pitt players and coaches have said this week that the biggest common thread among the defensive lapses is they usually come when one player tries to overcompensate for a teammate's mistakes. Rather than fixing the problem, it just leaves two defenders out of position.
"I think people are just worried about other people," Hendricks. "You need to worry about your job and your job only. If you do your job, then the person next to you is going to do their job."
While no coordinator wants to give up 55 points, House was quick to point out some positives.
The Panthers made four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown by linebacker Anthony Gonzalez.
Hendricks had the first interception and said he recognized the play from what Pitt had seen on tape before the Duke game.
"He made a great play there in quarters [defense]," House said. "We actually had a blitz on, they came up and checked. We checked into a coverage because they got out of the blitz."
Even Vinopal, who admitted that he made a mistake on a long Duke touchdown pass early in the first half, said he thought he rebounded nicely in the second half. He capped off his day by recovering an onside kick that helped seal the win for Pitt.
"The biggest thing is not letting the same mistakes beat you twice," he said. "Personally, the mistakes I made in the first half, I believe the second half I came out and put them away. It was over and done with."
And, ultimately, it's easier to swallow mistakes when you get to celebrate a victory.
"The talent's there, the scheme's there, we can do it," Vinopal said. "I think we've just got to keep our focus a little better, not get lackadaisical when we get a lead and try and sit on it. Keep our foot on the throat. That's pretty much it from my standpoint. It's better to learn from a win than a loss anytime."
NOTE -- Defensive end Devin Cook will miss the rest of the season because of a left anterior cruciate ligament injury, a team spokesperson confirmed. Cook played in all three games this season and registered three tackles.
• Game: Pitt (2-1, 1-1 ACC) vs. Virginia (2-1, 0-0), Heinz Field.
• When: 12:30 p.m., Saturday.
• TV: Root Sports.
• The skinny: Virginia's defense is tied for first in NCAA Division I-A, averaging 8.3 three-and-outs a game.