Pitt coach Paul Chryst, Panthers eager to get back on field

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It has been 10 days since Pitt's 24-17 loss to Connecticut, and as far as Panthers coach Paul Chryst is concerned, he's ready to get back on the field.

The Panthers (4-6, 1-4) return to action at noon Saturday with their home finale against No. 21 and Big East Conference leader Rutgers (9-1, 5-0). Chryst said he thought his team put its off week to good use.

"I'm excited it's game week again. I thought we had a good bye week, good energy," he said. "It was fun to be around the players. I had a chance to watch a little bit more film than a normal game week, and I'm impressed with [Rutgers]."

While the team had plenty of specific areas to clean up after back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and the Huskies, Chryst said his biggest benefit from the open week was guys getting healthier. Tight end Hubie Graham didn't practice last week, but Chryst said that no one has been ruled out of the game against the Scarlet Knights.

"We'll see," Chryst said. "I felt like he fought every week to try and get back, so we'll see."

Wide receiver Devin Street said his goal in the off week was to move past the Connecticut game, while still learning some areas where he could improve from the loss.

"I think we've proved we can play. We definitely have some talent out there. It's just about finishing," Street said. "With the bye week and this week of preparation, I think we can go out and do that."

One-sided lately

Pitt's two-headed running back attack has been decidedly one-sided for the past two weeks, with senior Ray Graham getting the lion's share of the carries and freshman Rushel Shell seeing limited work.

Over the past two games, Graham had 39 carries to just seven for Shell. Chryst, though, said it was just a product of the situation. Against Notre Dame, Graham was running well against one of the best run defenses in Division I-A. In the loss to the Huskies, Pitt was down, 24-0, early and had to throw to catch up.

"Shoot, last game we didn't have enough attempts," Chryst said. "We hope to get them both a good share of carries. That means we're in the game, we're able to run the ball effectively. There's not anything more than the way the games have kind of played out."

Turf concerns

This weekend is annually one of the busiest for Heinz Field, and that occasionally can take a toll on the stadium's turf.

The field will play host to four WPIAL championship games Friday. Combined with the dropping temperatures, the Heinz Field grass has often been the subject of criticism from players and coaches.

Chryst, though, is not concerned with it.

"No, it's going to be our field," Chryst said. "What the hell do you want us to do about it? Let's go play."

Regular schedule

Despite Thanksgiving this week, Chryst said Pitt would likely keep to a regular practice schedule. The team will have Thursday afternoon off to enjoy Thanksgiving with families, but largely will keep to the same schedule.

"We've got a lot of guys that are from here. From my understanding in the past, they'll bring other guys with them," Chryst said. "They'll get a chance to be with their family, and we won't have to skip a beat in terms of preparation. Really, I think we can balance it out pretty well."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @SWernerPG.


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