Open week is a chance to grow for Pitt football
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Pitt's loss last Friday to Connecticut was about as deflating as they come.
The Panthers fell behind, 24-0, in the first half to a team that was winless in conference and failed to bounce back in the second half en route to a 24-17 loss.
The defeat dealt a severe blow to Pitt's bowl hopes and erased all the optimism that came along with the close lose Nov. 3 at Notre Dame.
Pitt has an open weekend to correct the minor details that plagued them in losses this season, as well as continue to "create the culture" first-year coach Paul Chryst wants to establish within the program.
"Every opportunity to get to go practice, we've got to get something out of it," Chryst said. "We've got two more opportunities to play, and the right to earn a third if you take care of your business and win."
Technically speaking, Pitt players and coaches cited the "little things" they need to work on this off-week to potentially win out and claw their way back to bowl eligibility.
"If it's [offensive line] with combination blocks, linebackers with tackling or cornerbacks with press coverage," Chryst said. "We'll kind of earmark a couple of things and we've just got to get some spirit into the practices and just play."
Those details weren't clicking in East Hartford. As the Pitt defense let Connecticut's 116th-ranked scoring offense march up and down the field, the offense never found a rhythm to keep pace with the Huskies early.
Though the results were night and day, Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said it was a fine line between that showing and the impressive offensive game against Notre Dame the week before.
"It's funny, it doesn't take much to be off," Rudolph said. "If you're a step off, it's the difference between converting and not converting. Whether it's setting you back on second down or whether you're not converting third down. Those things show up fast."
While they're sorting out those technical details, Chryst will also continue to implement his long-term vision for the program. He talked about establishing the culture at Pitt and questioned his team's effort at times in the loss to the Huskies.
For a program that has gone through three coaching changes over the past two years, that big-picture change is probably more important than any schematic adjustment Chryst and his staff will make this week.
One of Chryst's messages to his team is consistency in the way it approaches each week, but the results have been almost staggeringly up and down for the Panthers this season.
"I think this year we've been playing to our opponent's level," running back Ray Graham said. "That's one thing we've been inconsistent with, not playing Pitt football the whole way out. We always stoop to somebody's level, or if we're playing a good team we play good like them."
Chryst said building that positive culture isn't just about one strong game or one good week in practice. It's a steady process.
"You've got to communicate, be consistent and it doesn't happen overnight," he said. "You've just got to keep working at it."
First Published November 17, 2012 12:00 am