After Pitt’s win Sept. 21 against Duke, safety Ray Vinopal took a step some 21-year-olds might consider unfathomable.
He deleted his Twitter account.
Vinopal had been the subject of criticism from fans online during the first few games and decided he had enough of the negativity hurled his way.
When he checked his phone after Pitt’s 28-21 win Saturday against No. 24 Notre Dame, a game in which Vinopal had three forced turnovers, it was all positive.
“I still didn’t check Twitter, but I had a lot of text messages from friends and family, which is always awesome, to see all your support,” said Vinopal, who was named the ACC defensive back of the week. “I just really focused on reading what they had to say and the congratulations they had.”
Vinopal deserved all the kind words he got. His forced fumble in the second quarter ended a Notre Dame scoring threat, and two fourth quarter interceptions keyed Pitt’s comeback win.
The first interception came in the end zone as Notre Dame was looking for a touchdown to break a tie.
“I happened to catch K’Waun [Williams’] man start adjusting to the quarterback as he started to try and buy some extra time and luckily just caught him coming across the middle,” Vinopal said. “The QB didn’t see me so I was able to go make the play.”
Vinopal picked off Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees’ next pass attempt, too, running it back to the Irish 5-yard line to set up the winning touchdown. Rees was attempting to float a pass to tight end Ben Koyack, who was being covered by linebacker Shane Gordon.
“Tommy Rees was forced to put it up there,” Vinopal said. “Our linebacker had such good position, he couldn’t possibly have thrown it low or else Shane would’ve picked it off. That gave me the opportunity to make a play.”
Vinopal now has three interceptions on the season, as well as five pass breakups. He came into the season as the lone new starter in secondary, which had to undergo an adjustment period to new defensive coordinator Matt House’s defensive scheme.
The defense has improved significantly from its 55-point debacle in Durham, N.C., but Vinopal once again found himself on the wrong end of a big play last week against Georgia Tech. He was outjumped by Yellow Jackets receiver DeAndre Smelter — five inches taller than Vinopal — on a 42-yard pass that sealed the win for Georgia Tech.
“You always go out trying to right the wrongs the next week,” Vinopal said. “Georgia Tech, that kid made a great play. Unfortunately, I tried to make the play and wasn’t able to. To go out and show that I’m going to still continue to try and make the play every time, and that I can make the play, is a big deal for me.”
Though Vinopal was the star of Saturday’s game, coach Paul Chryst said he didn’t see a difference in Vinopal’s attitude when he came to practice this week.
“I think any guy is happy when they can contribute because there is that personal part,” Chryst said. “But I think he was truly — like a lot of our guys — just happy to contribute to a win and getting us back to winning a game.”
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.