Pitt coach Paul Chryst begins preparations for Bowling Green in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt's 2013 finale against Bowling Green in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl is less than a week away, but early bowl practices have allowed the Panthers coaching staff to take a tiny peek ahead.
Like a year ago, Pitt coach Paul Chryst and his assistants have used some of their early bowl practices to give younger players more practice snaps than they might get in the usual game week.
"I think the right way to go about the bowl is to take advantage of the time," Chryst said. "You're not going to reinvent who you are as a team, so you've got to keep guys going and try to improve on who you are."
After Pitt's regular season ended with a 41-31 loss Nov. 29 against Miami, the team had the next weekend off. Over the ensuing week of practice, Pitt's bowl opponent was still to be determined, so that time was dedicated primarily to developing younger players.
Since then, the staff has worked the regular starters back into the mix but still ends practices with some drills for the youngsters.
Chryst declined to name any specific players who stood out, but defensive coordinator Matt House praised defensive lineman Justin Moody, a freshman who is redshirting this season, as one of the bright spots.
"He's had great opportunities in this because as a redshirt a lot of times he's down on the scout team," House said. "Now, he's got an opportunity to play a defensive call and not read a card, and it's been great for him. You've seen his development and where he's come from training camp to now, which you really sometimes lose sight of during the season."
Offensively, freshman receiver Tyler Boyd said he has been impressed with fellow freshman receiver Zach Challingsworth, a South Fayette High School product who also is redshirting this season.
Boyd said there was one specific series in practice where Challingsworth made just about every catch, including a jump ball in the end zone over freshman cornerback Titus Howard.
"I know Titus -- he doesn't really cut anybody slack out there, even when I'm out there," Boyd said.
Bowling Green favored
Despite coming from a supposedly superior conference, Pitt sits as a 6-point underdog to the Falcons, a fact that hasn't been lost on the Panthers.
"That's got to give you something to work for, obviously," safety Ray Vinopal said.
That, along with Bowling Green's impressive 47-27 victory against previously unbeaten Northern Illinois Dec. 6in the Mid-American Conference championship, has made it easy for Chryst to feel confident that his team won't head into the game Thursday with any sense of overconfidence.
"We're a 6-6 team right now," Chryst said. "For us to be overlooking anybody is ridiculous."
Quick start key
House admitted that the Pitt defense did not play up to its standard in the season finale against Miami, a game in which the Panthers trailed, 14-0, just 3:30 into the game.
He also noted, though, that he was pleased with his players' reaction to the slow start.
"You could tell that guys truly were disappointed and irritated with themselves," House said. "Also, you've seen the tempo in our practices now be cranked up. I think part of that is we have set a bar and an expectation and throughout the year we've improved, improved, improved -- with that last game being an aberration. I think it truly ticked the kids off."
As usual, Chryst stayed mum when asked to provide any insight on Pitt's injury situation heading into the bowl game.
The biggest name in question is receiver Devin Street, who missed most of Pitt's past two games with various injuries. Like the other players, Chryst said Street was in "wait-and-see" mode.
ISam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.
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