CFN Take: Pitt Runs Past Virginia Tech

CFN Take: Pitt Runs Past Virginia Tech

Pitt Panthers 2014 ... Head Coach: Paul Chryst


2014 Pitt Panthers

2014 Schedule
Record: 4-3

Aug. 30 Delaware W 62-0
Sep. 5 at Boston Col; W 30-20
Sep. 13 at FIU W 42-25
Sep. 20 Iowa L 24-20
Sep. 27 Akron L 21-10
Oct. 4 at Virginia L 24-19
Oct. 11 OPEN DATE
Oct. 16 Virginia Tech W 21-16
Oct. 25 Georgia Tech
Nov. 1 Duke
Nov. 8 OPEN DATE
Nov. 15 at North Carolina
Nov. 22 Syracuse
Nov. 29 at Miami
Oct. 16 at Pitt 21, Virginia Tech 16
And You Care Because … Tyler Boyd took a pass 53 yards for a score and James Conner ran for scores from 15 and 13 yards out as Pitt never trailed in a key win in the ACC Coastal race. The Panther defense stiffened time and again in the first three quarters only allowing three Joey Slye field goals from 42, 24 and 21 yards out. Connor’s second scoring run came early in the fourth for a 21-9 lead, but the Hokies fought back with a 14-yard Cam Phillips touchdown catch. They had one last shot, but the Pitt defense held.
What Else? Pitt QB Chad Voytik completed 10-of-17 passes for 92 yards and a score with a pick, and ran for a team-leading 118 yards on 19 carries. James Conner ran 16 times for 85 yards and a touchdown
- Virginia Tech QB Michael Brewer completed 26-of-45 passes for 265 yards and a score
- Third down conversions: Pitt 6-of-16 – Virginia Tech 2-of-14 (0-for-2 on fourth downs)
- Rushing yards: Pitt 210 – Virginia Tech 26
Game Rating: B

Oct. 4 at Virginia 24, Pitt 19
And You Care Because … Virginia broke a 3-3 tie with 21 second quarter points on a 48-yard Kevin Parks run, a three-yard Khalek Shepherd catch, and a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown from Max Valles. Pitt mounted a comeback with 16 unanswered points, with Chad Voytik throwing two touchdown passes and Chris Blewitt hitting a 24-yard field goal, but the Cavaliers hung on after J.P. Holtz caught a six-yard scoring pass with 1:27 to play.
What Else? Virginia RB Kevin Parks ran 29 times for 169 yards and a score
- Pitt RB James Conner was held to 83 yards on 21 carries
- Rushing yards: Virginia 225 – Pitt 116
- Penalties: Pitt 10 for 75 yards – Virginia 6 for 65 yards
Game Rating: B

Sept. 27 Akron 21, at Pitt 10
And You Care Because … Down 7-0 late in the first half, Akron got a 52-yard Mykel Traylor-Bennett touchdown catch and didn’t look back from there. Cody Grice ran for two short scores, and the Zip defense only allowed a field goal over the last 35 minutes in the stunning win. Pitt got its touchdown on an eight-yard Manasseh Garner catch with less than five minutes to play in the first half but the O sputtered and coughed the rest of the way.
What Else? Pitt RB James Conner was held to 92 yards on 25 carries
- Akron RB Conor Hundley ran 19 times for 148 yards, and Cody Grice ran three times for three yards and two scores
- Penalties; Akron 10 for 64 yards – Pitt 7 for 55 yards
-Pitt QB Chad Voytik completed 20-of-34 passes for 220 yards with a touchdown and a pick
Game Rating: C-

Sept. 20 Iowa 24, at Pittsburgh 20
And You Care Because … Iowa rallied from an early deficit, and got a game-sealing pick from S Anthony Gair in the waning seconds, to upset Pitt at Heinz Field. The Hawkeyes got sparks on offense from backup QB C.J. Beathard and veteran RB Mark Weisman, whose 1-yard touchdown plunge with 6:56 left in the fourth quarter gave Iowa its first and only lead of the game.
What Else? Beathard was good enougPh to create a quarterback controversy in Iowa City. He took over for starter Jake Rudock and promptly led the Hawkeyes to three second-half scoring drives, going 7-of-8 for 98 yards.
- Pitt RB James Conner continued to pile up huge numbers, through the Hawkeyes slowed him down in the crucial second half. Conner’s 155 yards and one score on 29 carries don’t accurately reflect the second-half adjustments made by the Iowa staff.
- Former Hawkeye WR Greg Mabin had a huge day in the secondary. The corner made some huge stops in the second half, finishing the game with three pass breakups. He has a future on the All-Big Ten team.
- Pitt outgained Iowa, 435-311, yet still lost at home. The offense went cold when it needed conversions, going the final 36 minutes without getting into the end zone.
Game Rating: B+

Sept. 13 Pittsburgh 42, Florida International 25
And You Care Because … Pitt shook off a slow start, erasing an early 16-0 deficit to zip past Florida International. The Golden Panthers pulled to within 26-19 early in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers pulled away for good on a safety and two James Conner touchdowns over the final eight minutes. Pitt showed resiliency, albeit versus a weaker opponent, to run its record to 3-0.
What Else? Conner continued to run like an All-American, carrying the Panthers with 177 yards and three scores on 30 carries. He’s yet to be slowed down by any of Pitt’s first three opponents.
- Florida International got a spark on offense from young QB Alex McGough, who subbed nicely for starter E.J. Hilliard. The rookie hit on 17-of-32 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
- For a time, it looked as if this might be the signature win Golden Panther coach Ron Turner has been seeking. While FIU couldn’t close the deal, there were hints of progress for the program in its second year under Turner.
- If someone figures out how to corral Conner, Pitt is in trouble. The passing game has been impotent so far with Chad Voytik at the controls, producing just 98 yards and a touchdown versus a bad Conference USA team.
Game Rating: C

Sept. 5 Pitt 30, at Boston College 20
And You Care Because … James Conner ran for 214 yards and a score, with his nine yard touchdown run giving Pitt a 27-7 lead late in the third. Boston College was up 7-3 in the first on a one-yard Tyler Rouse run, but the Panthers scored 24 straight points helped by two Chad Voytik to Tyler Boyd passes from 15 and five yards out in the third. BC rallied late with a two-yard Tyler Murphy touchdown run to pull within ten, but the two-point conversion attempt failed and the final drive – after getting the onside kick – ended with a pick.
What Else? Tyler Murphy led BC with 104 yards and a score on 15 carries, but he only completed 10-of-28 throws for 134 yards with a score and two picks.
- The rest of the running game stumbled for the Eagles. No other BC player ran for more than 14 yards – when Murphy wasn’t taking off, the Eagles weren’t moving.
- Pitt’s James Conner was fantastic, running 36 times for 214 yards and a score.
- Neither team threw particularly well, but Pitt was able to control the game with Conner. Chad Voytik only hit ten of his 20 pass attempts.
Game Rating: C+

Aug. 30 at Pitt 62, Delaware 0
And You Care Because … Pitt rolled at will running for 407 yards with James Conner running for four touchdowns and Chad Voytik throwing for a sharp two-touchdown day including a 14-yarder to Tyler Boyd. Delaware managed just 71 yard of total offense.
What Else? This isn’t a bad Delaware team, and Pitt just erased it off the map. Everything worked in a laugher that shouldn’t have been so easy – Pitt looked fantastic.
- The O line destroyed the Blue Hens. James Conner ran for 145 yards and four scores on just 13 carries, and the team as a whole averaged 7.4 yards per pop.
- That’s what Chad Voytik needed to come into the season hitting 12-of-15 passes for 92 yards and two scores. Tyler Boyd wasn’t needed catching just three passes for 20 yards and two scores.
- With the ACC opener against Boston College up next, this was a perfect opener. There were a few penalties and a few little mistakes, but a 42-0 halftime lead made nothing else matter.
Game Rating: D-

2014 Preview 

Now that Pitt has achieved stability, it wants to locate prosperity.

The Panthers are about to begin their third year with the same coach, Paul Chryst, and their second season as a member of the ACC. That’s the good news for a program that dealt with turbulence in the few years leading up to Chryst’s hiring in 2011. The concern is that Pitt is solidly stuck in neutral, that area of college football purgatory that produces bowl berths but not much national respect.

Pitt has gone either 6-7 or 7-6 in each of the last three seasons. You are what your record says you are, and the Panthers are mediocre these days. In 2013, they were outscored by a grand total of nine points and were outgained by just 70 yards. If average was a program, its colors would be blue and gold. If the Panthers are going to elevate in 2014, it’ll likely be driven by the offense. Yeah, a new quarterback, likely sophomore Chad Voytik, will be broken in, and the offensive line is perennially inconsistent. But Pitt spawned in 2013 a pair of playmaking cornerstones of the future in WR Tyler Boyd and RB James Conner. Boyd was the nation’s top rookie receiver, as he paid homage to former Panther great Larry Fitzgerald. Conner wrapped up his first season on campus by rushing for 229 yards in the Little Caesars Bowl win over Bowling Green.

The big story on defense revolves around the departure of DT Aaron Donald, one of the greatest defenders to ever play for the school. His graduation not only leaves Pitt with a gaping void up front, but it has coordinator Matt House searching for new leaders and new playmakers on this side of the ball. Only five of last year’s starters are back, and not one of them is likely to appear on the preseason All-ACC Team. The Panthers were vulnerable when Donald was on the field in 2013. Without No. 97, it’ll take a collaborative effort just to match last season’s numbers.

Chryst has helped lay the foundation at Pittsburgh, but now what? The Panthers have grown tired of six and seven-loss seasons that end in Detroit or Birmingham in half-empty buildings. Pitt will never be Florida State or Clemson. Still, there’s an opening in the ACC behind the two heavyweights that the Panthers would love to fill. Reaching that point will be a process, one that won’t be completed in 2014.

What to watch for on offense: Chad Voytik’s progress as the heir apparent to Tom Savage at quarterback. Savage was a veteran, with the rifle to stretch defenses. Voytik is a very different player, which could mean new wrinkles in the playbook. The 6-1, 210-pound sophomore is smaller than his predecessor, but he’s also lighter on his feet. In other words, look for more rollouts and designed runs than at any point since Tyler Palko was still matriculated. Voytik provided a spark coming off the bench in the bowl game. If he can build off that outing, there’s an opportunity to be a three-year starter.

What to watch for on defense: Double-duty for the linebackers. If there’s a strength on the Pitt D, it’s the linebackers. The Panthers are not only experienced at the second level, but they’re also versatile. The unit is flush with quality athletes, such as Todd Thomas, Anthony Gonzales and Nicholas Grigsby, who’ll be asked to do more than just stuff. The trio—and the backups—will be needed to augment a questionable pass rush, and drop back to support a secondary breaking in two new starters.

The team will be far better if… it gives Voytik enough time to find his receivers. Personnel and coaches change, but Pittsburgh just can’t seem to get this pass protection thing down. In fact, over the last three years, the Panthers have been no higher than 110th nationally in sacks allowed. Now that five blockers who started at least three games in 2013 are back, will it make a difference? It better. Sophomores Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson, in particular, are former blue-chippers being asked to grow up quickly.

The Schedule: The Panthers miss Florida State and Clemson from the Atlantic. Right there, it's already a decent schedule. The only two-game road stretch comes early, and it's not bad going to Boston College and FIU. However, the two big Coastal games come late with two of the last three games away from home going to North Carolina and Miami. There's a fantastic midseason stretch of five home games in six, hosging Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke, to go along with a tough non-conference date with Iowa and a layup against Akron, and the road game is at Virginia. Basically, Pitt has nothing to complain about.

Best offensive player: Sophomore WR Tyler Boyd. The Panthers won’t have experience behind center in 2014, but they will have an elite pass-catcher teaming up with that unproven quarterback. Boyd was revelatory in his rookie year, debuting in blue and gold as if he was channeling a youthful Larry Fitzgerald. Not only is Boyd a 6-2, 185-pound target, but he possesses the enormous catch-radius to singlehandedly boost the completion percentage of a quarterback. If the ball is anywhere near No. 23, he’s going to pull it in.

Best defensive player: Senior FS Ray Vinopal. Vinopal is more than just a starting safety for the Panthers. He’s also one of the emotional sparkplugs of a defense that’ll be desperately looking for leaders this fall. The honorable mention All-ACC selection plays with tons of heart and emotion, intangibles that rub off on his Pitt teammates. Vinopal is terrific in run support, pressing up to give the Panthers the equivalent of a fourth linebacker on obvious running plays.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Darryl Render. No one will make Pitt fans forget Aaron Donald. It’s up to Render—and the rest of the tackles—to mitigate the loss of the team’s All-American. Forget making comparisons, which are neither fair nor productive. Render has the talent and the quickness to deliver the breakout season that that the Panthers sorely need from their interior linemen. The 6-2, 285-pound has been itching for this opportunity to advertise his skills as a gap-buster.

The season will be a success if ... Pitt wins eight games for the first time since 2010. There’s no doubt that this program is facing hurdles on both sides of the ball entering 2014. The schedule, though, is brimming with possibilities. The Panthers miss Florida State and Clemson in the rotation, while Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke will travel to Heinz Field. Delaware, Florida International, Akron and Iowa comprise the non-conference schedule, and the toughest road games don’t occur until November. Pitt could be rebuilding and still have a crack at winning eight.

Key game: Oct. 16 vs. Virginia Tech. The Panthers get a rare Thursday night national TV audience to advertise their progress under Chryst. And they’ll do it as a host to one of the ACC’s traditional powers of the past decade. If Pitt can capture a momentum-building win in this first of three straight league home games, it could catapult the team into Coastal Division contention.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: Pittsburgh 125.7 – Opponents 149.0
- Sacks: Pittsburgh 25 – Opponents 43
- Scoring: Pittsburgh 342 - Opponents 353
.8

- 2014 Pitt Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players  

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