Looking straight into an 0-2 start, Paul Chryst held his weekly press conference to begin talking about Virginia Tech, who comes to Heinz Field at 2-0.
Pitt’s problems are glaring all over the place—three offensive touchdowns in two games, a Big East high six sacks allowed, a Big East low zero turnovers produced, a Big East high eight scores allowed in the red zone, a Big East low 2 touchdowns produced in the red zone.
The list goes on and on in terms of the statistical categories that Pitt ranks low with, and this just two games in to the season.
Chryst expanded on that sack total a little. Interestingly, the conference-high six sacks allowed by Pitt this season were all allowed against Cincinnati. Chryst says the offensive line is not the only culprit. He says pass protection—like everything else in football—is the responsibility of others.
“We’re putting a premium on that this week,” Chryst said. “You have to make sure everyone is squared away. Everyone is responsible for sacks. There’s five guys on the offensive line, then you have backs. If both backs are in there, you could have taken a hit off the quarterback. The quarterback has to get the ball out of his hands.
“It’s one of the neat things about football. It takes all 11 guys on offense, and that is a great example of it. Everyone can take ownership.”
Virginia Tech comes into this game with just three sacks and seven hurries, but the Hokies have only faced 37 passing attempts in eight quarters of football this season. In those 37 passing attempts, Virginia Tech has forced three interceptions. Pitt has faced 52 passing attempts, has allowed 5 passing touchdowns and forced no interceptions. Georgia Tech, in The Opening game of the season, three just 16 times against the Hokies.
One area that Chryst also has his eyes on, is obviously the defense. It’s hard to say where there’s a good part on Pitt’s defense, and where there’s any positives or sign of encouragement. The Panthers have allowed 65 total points this season, has not forced a turnover, and ranks last in the Big East with 422.5 yards allowed per game. Pitt’s run defense ranks last in the Big East, allowing 231.5 yards per game—in two games.
Where to begin? There’s so many numbers that match up as to why Pitt is 0-2, regardless of opposition. Personnel changes, Chryst added, are something he’s not looking towards. There was one minor one on the defensive line, as Bryan Murphy is officially a first-teamer, after Jack Lippert started the first two games. T.J. Clemmings made his first career start Thursday at Cincinnati, as did Tyrone Ezell.
Ezell and Shayne Hale were two of the six players suspended from the September 1 opener against Youngstown State. Clemmings was out due to injury. The return of the three did not seem to make much of a difference. Ezell and Clemmings combined for 7 tackles.
More pressure up front is something very noticeable about this Pitt defense, after a run of four or five seasons where the defensive line was a strength, or at least a position with some quality depth. This year’s group is less experienced. Chryst said Monday that sometimes the best remedy for improvement in a case like this, is simply more experience.
“There are guys we see are getting better,” Chryst said. “How that goes from game two to three, this group needs to keep making jumps.”
One change Chryst made from week one to week two was having Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks starting in place of Andrew Taglianetti and Ray Vinopal, respectively. Holley and Hendricks started and played virtually the entire Cincinnati game, while Taglianetti and Vinopal were relegated to mainly special teams duties on Thursday. Despite giving up 464 yards—over 80 total yards and 30 more passing yards than the previous week against Youngstown State—Chryst says he’s sticking with Holley and Hendricks.
“I think we believed going into the season, and we still believe this, is we have four good safeties,” Chryst said. “That’s one of the positions where we have legitimate depth. Jarred and Jason are playing well. Those two are playing well as much as you can say Tags and Ray aren’t. Ray and Tags are multi-faceted guys on special teams. We have to make sure they are playing a lot and helping this team.”
Chryst was also partially talking about any other position changes in light of the 0-2 start. For now, the safety changes he made last week, and now the switch of Murphy in favor of Lippert are the only ones we are going to see for the time being.
“This group cares,” Chryst added. “You focus on things you can control. You have to point out the tangible areas; if you do this, you get better. The process takes care of that. If someone cares, and it’s important to them, they’re willing to work, there will be growth.”
On a side note, there are two Virginia Tech players with ties to Pitt, of sorts. Kyshoen Jarrett—who initially made a verbal commitment to Pitt in August of 2010—is the starting ROVER for the Virginia Tech defense; a hybrid defensive back/linebacker type of position. Jarrett has played and started in both games as a true sophomore, and leads the team with 2.5 tackles for losses so far. Freshman corner Donovan Riley—who picked up a verbal offer from Pitt early in his recruitment, came to a Pitt prospect camp in the summer prior to his junior year and again for the 2010 Pitt-West Virginia game, is a backup at corner. He played in his first collegiate game last week.