Pitt defense put head coach in bad spot in season opener
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With six minutes remaining in the third quarter and his team trailing by 11 points Saturday night, Pitt coach Paul Chryst decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Youngstown State 21 rather than kick a field goal. While that decision is open to debate, Chryst's explanation afterward left no room for interpretation.
The first-year head coach said he did not have confidence his defense would play well enough over the final 21 minutes to give his team a chance to win.
"Part of it had to do with the way Youngstown State was moving the ball," Chryst said in his postgame news conference. "I didn't feel like there were going to be a lot of possessions in the game."
The Panthers have to improve in many areas after the 31-17 loss against the Penguins, but the defense has the most room to grow.
Youngstown State had scoring drives of 79, 92, 71, 78 and 67 yards. The Penguins had a 10-play drive, a 12-play drive and two 15-play drives. They were successful on 11 of 16 third-down conversions, including their first six.
Pitt's defense forced no turnovers or sacks in 35-plus minutes on the field.
"Defensively, we were just kind of not attacking," Chryst said Monday. "We were waiting for the action to come to us rather than playing fast and playing confident. Guys played a little bit hesitant. Hopefully, our players will play more confident."
More than half the defensive players started their first college game, including two linebackers, Nicholas Grigsby and Eric Williams. Linemen Bryan Murphy, Khaynin Mosely-Smith and Jack Lippert and cornerback Lafayette Pitts also made their starting debuts.
"We have a lot of first-time starters out there," senior safety Andrew Taglianetti said. "They're getting their feet wet a little bit."
Chryst is hopeful that all his players, but especially the younger ones, will play better Thursday night against Cincinnati.
It will be first game for the Bearcats.
Chryst and the defensive staff will stress fundamentals this week, pointing out that the biggest issues for the defense were basic things such as getting off blocks and tackling.
"Some of the things that are kind of boring really do make a difference," he said. "Those are the things we get to hammer on and reinforce."
The team met Sunday to review the Youngstown State game and practiced Monday because of the short preparation week.
Chryst said he has been buoyed by the players' response to the loss, the first in Pitt's long football history against a Division I-AA team.
"I think players, in general, bounce back from all games pretty quick," he said. "There are times when adults, the coaches, can probably learn from that.
"I love right now where this group is at. They've had the right response. They certainly weren't happy with what happened, but they're not in the tank, either. They weren't hanging their heads, and I think they saw the film and there's a little bit of 'we can and will do anything' to change it.
"I think they bounce back pretty quick."
NOTES -- Chryst said the six players who were suspended for the Youngstown State game will practice this week, but he won't determine until Wednesday if they will travel with the team to Cincinnati. "They'll all have an opportunity," Chryst said. "Will they help us win the game? Every guy that gets on that plane is there for one purpose -- to represent Pittsburgh, to go compete and win a game. If they can help us do that, then they will absolutely play."... Chryst said the team is getting healthier, but he declined to comment on specific injuries. Starting cornerback K'Waun Williams left the Youngstown State game early and did not return. Also, starting defensive end T.J. Clemmings did not play. ... Chryst explained his decision not to have names on the back of jerseys this season: "We didn't take the names off," he said. "We just didn't put them on. I think it's one team. You have numbers. It's a clean slate. I think it's kind of cool. I know some of the players don't like it, but that's all right."
First Published September 4, 2012 12:00 am