Pitt notebook: Upset of Notre Dame could be catalyst for strong finish

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Pitt’s 28-21 upset victory against No. 24 Notre Dame Saturday night has the potential to be the type of win that spurs the Panthers on to a successful finish to Paul Chryst’s second season at helm.

As Chryst pointed out after the game and again at his news conference Monday, whether or not the Panthers seize the momentum they gained Saturday is yet to be seen.

“It was a good night, and something we can move forward with,” Chryst said. “The thing that I was most proud of is the way the guys kept playing. You look at that tape and compare it to previous games, and it wasn’t a different team, wasn’t different guys. We just made some plays at the right situations and found a way to win.”

Pitt safety Ray Vinopal, who had two interceptions and a forced fumble Saturday night, said he expected putting Saturday’s game in the past would be a major message from the coaching staff this week.

Last year, Pitt players admitted that they let their thoughts linger on the team’s disappointing 29-26, triple-overtime loss against Notre Dame. The hangover spilled into the first half of their game against Connecticut the following week, which Pitt lost 24-17.

“You enjoy the victory after it happens and then you forget about it just like you do a bad game; you don’t let it beat you two weeks in a row,” Vinopal said. “After a good game, you can’t expect last week’s game to give us a victory this week.”

Chryst said he thinks film evaluation of the game will help prevent the team from getting too overconfident heading into this weekend’s game against North Carolina. The Panthers played well, but they weren’t perfect.

“Each week has its own messages,” Chryst said. “You can’t go from saying this group of guys is going to pack it in to now all of a sudden we’re going to beat the ’85 Bears. That’s two extremes right there. We just have to stay in our world this week and every week.”

Bowl banter

Pitt has a chance to earn bowl eligibility for the sixth consecutive season with a win Saturday against North Carolina. Chryst, though, said he didn’t think that would be one of the main motivators for his team this week.

Rather, a bowl bid would represent the cumulative effect of a successful season. Each win preceding it would be just as important as a victory against the Tar Heels.

“We want to make it to a bowl — absolutely want to do that — and it’s a chance to play one more game with a team and when you like a team, you get to extend that,” Chryst said. “That part has value and the practice you get and it signifies you achieved something and truly earned the right for it.”

ESPN and Sports Illustrated both predict Pitt to play in the Military Bowl against a Conference-USA team.

Freshman returns

Freshman running back James Conner saw his first significant action Saturday after battling through a shoulder injury for the previous four games.

Conner had 10 carries for 35 yards and two touchdowns against he Irish. He had just 17 carries combined in Pitt’s four games before that.

“The first game back from injury, you’re always hesitant, but certainly now he seems to be at full health and pretty good,” Chryst said.

Game time announced

Pitt’s game Nov. 23 against Syracuse will kick off at 12:30 p.m. and be televised on the ACC Network. It will be Pitt’s fifth 12:30 p.m. kickoff of the season. Regional television details are still to be announced.

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

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