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November 28, 2012

Donald keeps stepping up for Pitt

Ryan Turnley could only laugh.

The Pitt center sat on the bench next to left guard Chris Jacobson while Rutgers had the ball first-and-goal at Pitt's 2-yard line in the third quarter of Saturday's game at Heinz Field. Running back Jawan Jamison took a handoff to the right, and Pitt fans saw what they've become accustomed to over the last three years:

Aaron Donald slicing through the offensive line and taking someone down behind the line. This time, it was a 4-yard loss.

Turnley and Jacobson weren't surprised.

"We just looked at each other and started laughing," Turnley said. "We know what that guy's feeling like."

Donald, a junior defensive tackle, put in another dominating performance in Saturday's 27-6 win over Rutgers. He recorded seven tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack as he continued to do what he's done all season.

What's more impressive is the way these games keep happening. After Donald led the defense with 11 sacks last season and was the line's only returning starter for 2012, the bar was set high. Other teams know Donald is the best defensive lineman and game plan to stop him.

Even with expectations to the ceiling, Donald has still delivered.

"He's set the standard that he needs to play well," head coach Paul Chryst said. "It's pretty neat to be around a guy that when the bar is set high, he can still achieve that level. (I have) a lot of respect for that guy. He's a football player. He does a great job preparing, studying film.

"To do it constantly, every game, I think that's the mark of a heck of a football player, and I think that's what he is. You truly appreciate that."

Donald definitely achieved that level against the Scarlet Knights. He saw mostly one-on-one blocks in the first half and took advantage of it, wreaking havoc in the Rutgers backfield. He was only credited with one quarterback hurry but seemed to affect Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova quite a bit.

The entire defensive line had success in stopping the run, too, as Pitt held Rutgers to just 50 yards rushing, 90 yards below its season average.

"It's exciting," Donald said. "I don't get too many single blocks. I've got a few the last couple games, and I'm just trying to make plays as I can when I get singled up."

Donald has been doing it all season. He leads Pitt's defense in tackles for loss (14.5), sacks (4.5) and quarterback hurries (11). He also ranks third on the team with 58 tackles.

He remains modest and a man of few words. When asked how he's remained so consistent, he answered exactly how you'd expect: working hard, getting in the weight room, studying film and being a leader.

Still, even his teammates know he's a special player, and it's hard not to take notice.

"He's a guy that brings a lot of fire, on the field and off the field," defensive end Shayne Hale said. "When we're out there, we just trust each other. I'm comfortable with him, and he's comfortable with me. It's been great playing next to him, and it gives you that extra boost. You know you can sell out and say 'I'm going to go after it this play' and know your buddy's got your back."

Turnley added: "You can't go out to practice thinking I'm just going to get through practice today. He'll expose you a lot of times. He's explosive. You just have to bring your A-game every snap against him. I think that's he's brought that out of us a little bit. He's a great leader for this team, and he makes our defense very good."

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