Pitt can right the ship on offense, defense against Navy
October 25, 2013 11:46 PM
Pitt coach Paul Chryst would like to see his defense and his passing game build some momentum today against Navy.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the offseason, the Pitt coaching staff got a visit from Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who gave Paul Chryst and company some advice about facing fellow service academy Navy.
"Make no mistake about it, they're going to be there to whip you," Calhoun told them, according to Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House.
Calhoun would know, as he has to play the Midshipmen every year. Chryst will get his first taste of triple-option football as a head coach at 1 p.m. today when the Panthers (4-2) play Navy (3-3) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
"We're certainly going to be challenged defensively with their offense," Chryst said.
Matchup: Pitt (4-2) vs. Navy (3-3), 1 p.m. today, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md. Panthers are favored by 5.
TV, Radio: CBS Sports Network, KDKA-FM (93.7).
Pitt: Coming off 35-24 win against Old Dominion. ... 4-2 marks best start since 2009, when Panthers started 5-1. ... Leads overall series against Navy, 22-13-3, with most recent result a 27-14 Pitt victory in 2009 at Heinz Field. ... DT Aaron Donald leads Division I-A in sacks per game (1.3) and tackles for loss per game (2.1). He is also the active career leader in sacks with 26.5 ... WR Devin Street is one catch from equalling Pitt's all-time receptions leader, Latef Grim, who had 178 from 1998-00. ... RB Isaac Bennett ran for 240 yards against Old Dominion, Pitt's highest rushing total since Dion Lewis' 261 against Cincinnati in 2010.
Navy: Lost, 45-44, to Toledo in double overtime last week ... Most recent win against Pitt came in 2007, a 48-45 double-overtime win at Heinz Field. ... A loss would give the Midshipmen second three-game losing streak since 2003. ... 128-131-8 all-time against ACC opponents. ... Earlier this season against Delaware, QB Keenan Reynolds became the first Navy player to pass for 200 yards and rush for 100 since 2002. ... Seven players have scored rushing touchdowns.
Hidden stat: Pitt has held its past three opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. Navy has not been held to less than 100 yards on the ground since Sept. 29, 2012, a 12-0 loss to San Jose State.
House's unit had taken some steps forward since its 55-point debacle Sept. 21 against Duke, but the Panthers had some lapses last week in their 35-24 win against Old Dominion.
The Monarchs racked up 405 total yards, including 312 through the air. That won't be as big a concern today, with Navy averaging just 11.8 pass attempts per game.
"It's like night and day preparing for the two different teams," House said. "There couldn't be more difference between the two teams. It's completely different."
House said Calhoun did give him some tips on how to prepare for the option offense, which Pitt will see again next week against Georgia Tech.
"He definitely helped some, no question," House said. "He really and truly had some great ideas because they play them every year; just the preparation you need to do because it's different than anything you're going to play all year, although we play it twice."
Pitt's offense also will try to get back in sync this week after an uneven performance against the Monarchs. Running back Isaac Bennett had a career day, rushing for 240 yards and three touchdowns, but the passing game struggled. Quarterback Tom Savage finished 11 of2 18 for 104 yards.
The Panthers should get a boost from wide receiver Devin Street, who is expected to return after missing the Old Dominion game with a shoulder injury. Fellow receiver Tyler Boyd said the Monarchs changed their coverages without having to worry about Street. Boyd expects the offense to get rolling again this week.
"Every week I think we should score a lot of points just with the athletes we've got on the field," Boyd said. "I think each of us should score at least once every game; that's how I look at it. We've got too many skilled guys on the field at once. We should be fine and put up a lot of points this week."
In the big picture, a win today would put Pitt just one shy of earning bowl eligibility for the sixth consecutive year.
Last year, the Panthers didn't win their fifth game until Nov. 24 against Rutgers.
"We're 4-2, we're doing good," offensive line coach Jim Hueber said. "There's a lot of teams that want to be 4-2. We're doing good. We're not satisfied with the two losses, but we're moving forward. We win this one, we'll be playing where we want to be playing."
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