Pitt aims to avoid familiar fate against Old Dominion

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Pitt coach Paul Chryst didn't say this week if he planned on reminding his team of its loss to Youngstown State a year ago, but it's a pretty safe bet most of the players remember.

The Panthers take on another talented Division I-AA team looking to pull off a similar upset in Old Dominion at 7 p.m. today at Heinz Field.

Pitt's three-game winning streak, its longest since 2010, was snapped with a 19-9 loss last week against Virginia Tech. But Chryst said he wasn't concerned about his team bouncing back from the defeat, which likely cost the Panthers any hope of competing for the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division title.

"From my experiences, the players bounce back a lot faster than the adults," Chryst said.

Scouting report

  • Matchup:

    Pitt (3-2) vs. Old Dominion (4-2), 7 p.m. today, Heinz Field.

  • TV, Radio:

    WTAE, KDKA-FM (93.7).

  • Pitt:

    Coming off a 19-9 loss last week against Virginia Tech. ... Loss snapped team's first three-game winning streak since 2010. ... First meeting with Old Dominion. ... DT Aaron Donald leads Division I-A in sacks per game (1.6) and tackles for losses per game (2.4). He is also the I-A active career leader in sacks with 26.5 ... Senior WR Devin Street is one catch away from tying Pitt's all-time receptions leader, Latef Grim, who had 178 from 1998-2000. ... Street and freshman Tyler Boyd rank in the top seven of the Atlantic Coast Conference in receiving yards and receptions per game. ... A win would give Pitt its best start since going 9-1 to start 2009.

  • Old Dominion:

    Had an open date last week. Beat Liberty, 21-17, two weeks ago. ... QB Taylor Heinicke won the Walter Payton Award in 2012, the I-AA equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. He thew for a I-AA-record 5,076 yards. ... Heinicke is averaging 348 yards per game this season and has thrown 14 touchdowns to just five interceptions. ... Playing this year as a I-AA independent, but will jump to I-A and play in Conference USA next season. ... Lost both games against I-A schools so far this season to East Carolina and Maryland. ... Averaging 55.5 points per game in four wins, all against I-AA opponents.

  • Hidden stat:

    Donald has more sacks (eight) than Old Dominion (seven).

The biggest question for the Panthers is whether or not they can shore up their pass protection, which has looked dismal in the past two games. Giving up eight sacks to Virginia Tech's talented defense might be excusable, but Pitt also allowed seven against Virginia a week earlier.

Protecting against Old Dominion should be an easier task, as the Monarchs have just seven sacks through six games. Still, Pitt could be without starter Cory King at left guard due to injury and the offensive line is in need of some momentum.

"They know that a lot of eyes are on them and I think they all know that there's areas where they can be a lot better and they know it certainly wasn't all them," Chryst said. "That's what I've liked about the group. Now, we haven't corrected everything and we're not where we want to be, but everyone's taking ownership in it and that's all you can ask."

Pitt's defense, which had been a concern after giving up 55 points Sept. 21 against Duke, appears to have improved considerably the past three weeks. The unit has allowed just one touchdown the past two games.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has appeared on several midseason All-American teams thanks to his eight sacks, including at least one in every game.

Tonight, the defense faces the task of slowing down Monarchs quarterback Taylor Heinicke.

Heinicke, who in 2012 won the Walter Payton Award for best offensive player in Division I-AA, has 2,088 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air this season. Last year he passed for 5,076 yards, a I-AA record.

"He is a really good player and he's a really smart player," Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House said. "You can tell on tape he gets them into the plays that they want to be in.

"He gets them in and out of the protections. I think he does a great job just managing and playing a game."

The Monarchs, who will jump to Division I-A and play in Conference USA next year, scored 38 points in their season-opening loss against East Carolina but only put up 10 the following week against Maryland. In those games, Old Dominion's only two against I-A teams so far, they lost by a combined score of 99-48.

But Pitt doesn't have to look back too far to know that a talented and hungry underdog can pull off an upset like Youngstown State did.

"Each game is a unique opportunity, and I don't think you feel more or less pressure," Chryst said. "It's the schedule and you embrace it each week. It's another game we get to play, so that's a pretty good deal."


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published October 18, 2013 8:18 PM


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