It's hard for Pitt head coach Paul Chryst to not appreciate Saturday's win. At the same time, he realizes that it is only one game, not to mention nine games remaining.
"That's what this season is," Chryst said. "You try to get better from the previous week. Gardner-Webb is this week and I told this to the group last week, that the game is always about you and it’s about our preparation and how you apply it to our opponent. If you approach the game that way, you keep your focus and you’ve got a chance to be best you can be.”
The Pitt offense went from scoring three touchdowns in its first two games, to putting together five against Virginia Tech. Hard to believe now, but all three were passing touchdowns--none from the rushing attack that produced 254 yards against the Hokies. While Ray Graham continues to prove that his health is in check, the Panthers got the biggest boost from freshman Rushel Shell. Shell rushed for 157 yards on 23 carries.
Chryst praised Graham and Shell, but said a great deal of credit goes towards the offensive line.
"I think come game day they’re as prepared as any group, just the competition," Chryst said.
Specifically, the work of offensive line coach Jim Hueber.
"His style worked for a lot of guys and in different places," Chryst added. "The beautiful thing is sometimes linemen are still linemen no matter where they’re at. That’s why we like them. We ask a lot of them, we want to ask a lot of them and they respond to that.”
One other key area that stood out was the turnover department. Pitt has lacked in the plus-minus department in recent years, and started off the same way through the first two games. Saturday, the defense produced four turnovers. Chryst said there's no rhyme or reason to it, other than it's part of the game and can swing a team's momentum, just as it did Saturday."
"I think it’s a big part of it," Chryst said. "Being able to capitalize on it and I think that’s one thing we did better than any other week. Hopefully we grew, but we’ll find out if it was real or a one-game thing. You have to play as a team. If something comes your way, if you capitalize it, that’s how you keep momentum on your side.
Chryst said the team came out of Saturday's game healthy. Though Tino Sunseri's knee bumped a defender's knee in the second half of Saturday's game, he does not expect Sunseri to miss any time this week. He does expect linebacker Todd Thomas to be back in the mix. Thomas has been out since the third day or training camp, recovering from an offseason knee surgery. Thomas suited up in full pads last week. Chryst sounds optimistic on Thomas' health, but didn't say for sure that he will play this week.
“We still feel good and I think he does," Chryst said. "It’s going to be hopefully this week the same as what we talked about last week — that each day he’ll do a little bit more. When it’s going to be, I don’t know. You can’t put a timetable on it.”
A lot of game balls went around the room on Saturday. The players, naturally, gave Chryst the game ball for his first win. He tells his side of it.
“I gave it to Ox (equipment manager Tim Enright)," Chryst said. "It meant a lot obviously because it came from the players and yet really everyone was a part of it. I understand the significance of it and the story but there are a lot of people that did a lot more than I did in that game. It certainly means a lot and when it comes from the players, that’s what you’re in it for."
Receiver Mike Shanahan says that Chryst gave his own game ball to someone else important to the program--not surprising after you hear Chryst's comments about a lot of people contributing.
"He gave a game ball to (director of high school relations Bob) Junko," Shanahan said. "He's been here through thick and thin, through everything that has gone on in the past. Coach Junk loved that. It was great for him. He's the guy that has been around the entire time for every player on the team. He's always there for us, so that felt good.
With a combined 47 carries and 251 yards for the run game, it sounds impossible to get one more back involved. However, there's still Isaac Bennett--the running back who took virtually every carry in the spring, and for a significant part of training camp.
Bennett appeared in several third-down packages, carrying the ball 2 times for 8 yards and catching another 2 passes for 14 yards. Chryst says it's nothing personal against Bennett, but admits he would like to also get him involved more.
Obviously, Isaac didn’t get as many snaps as he’s had in previous games but it’s not indicative of anything he’s been doing or not doing," Chryst said. "We’ve got to keep bringing everyone along. With the limited snaps Isaac played I thought he did good things. How it plays each week I do not know and never have when I’ve been in those situations.”