The Panthers were foundering going into that game, and 48-45 double-overtime decision at home was the fourth straight loss through six games. The turnaround wasn't dramatic, but there was a difference.
Pittsburgh went 3-3 during the season's second half with wins against two ranked teams, Cincinnati and No. 2 West Virginia, and close losses to Rutgers and Louisville. No. 23 Pitt (4-1) isn't the same team, but this year's game with Navy (4-2) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Annapolis, Md. could be just as critical.
"I wouldn't say it's an extra-special game for us, but I would think that our defense stepped it up a bit after the Navy game last year,'' Pitt fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop said. "It was a real shock for us. They came into our house last year and racked up 4-500 yards on us.
"And it hurts. You never see this offense, maybe only once a year and twice if you're lucky, and they're going to get their yards. They've led the nation in rushing for a reason, but we have to read our keys and be ready for everything from them. And I really believe we'll be ready this time.''
Pitt senior left offensive guard C.J. Davis also is well aware about the importance of this year's game.
"It's definitely a special game for us since we lost to them last year,'' Davis said. "They're going to be pumped up, too, because it's their homecoming. So, it should be a very good game. And we're looking forward to it.''
Unlike last season, Pitt is on a bit of a roll now with three straight comeback victory and four wins in a row overall after a disheartening loss to Bowling Green to open the season. The last win was a stunning 26-21 decision against then 10th-ranked South Florida nearly two weeks ago in Tampa, Fla.
"I think there was a lot of excitement, but right now I think our players are pretty much back to square one,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "You hate to say it's kind of a new season mentality, but it is. It's been a while since we've played, and we're playing a different team and playing them on the road.
"They don't give out trophies in October. Nobody gets awarded anything until the season is over, and our kids need to understand that, and I think they do. Really, I like our team right now from the standpoint that I believe everyone has their feet on the ground, and we know the importance of this Navy game.''
Wannstedt noted that the Panthers worked primarily on fundamentals during their bye week, but also spent time in different situations.
"We had a lot of time in the red zone, (and) we worked against each other with two-minute drills,'' Wannstedt said. "We spent a lot of individual time on fundamentals. We worked special teams every day, so we did a lot of things to kind of just get our football team better in addition to sneaking in a little work against Navy.''
Wannstedt believed the Panthers have progressed in recent weeks in the running game, and they're not making as many mistakes on defense. But those areas, as well as special teams, will need to continue to show improvement. Pitt is No. 1 in the country with the fewest penalties, but Navy is second. So, the team that makes the least mistakes could win this game.
"One thing about having 16 days between South Florida and Navy is that we've had a lot more time to prepare for them,'' McKillop said. "We had a bye week before the Navy game last year, too, and that didn't make much difference. But our mentality is totally different this season. Our spirits are pretty high.
"We had a chance to get healthy and get caught up on some school work, and we're ready for a good game at their place. I heard a lot of good things about playing there, so I can't wait. ... We need to follow up what we did (at USF) to show everybody what Pitt football is all about and not the Bowling Green game.
"Yes, that still has a sour taste in my mouth, and I'm sure it's the same for my fellow teammates,'' McKillop added. "So, we just have to keep going out there and getting it done. Navy last year was upsetting to us and our coaches, but we've taken a lot from that to move forward to where we are right now.''
And the Pitt football program is much better for it.
Pitt's offensive line appeared to be set up for failure when this past season began, but despite a…