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September 24, 2013

Defense has mixed emotions after win

Aaron Donald sat in the postgame interview room after his Pitt Panthers held on to beat Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C., Saturday, but the senior defensive tackle wasn't brimming with enthusiasm.

That's understandable, since his defense had just spent the afternoon chasing Blue Devils up and down the field as the two teams combined for a near-record 113 points - second-most in ACC history - and an exhausting 1,130 yards. Duke's offense was responsible for 55 of those points and 532 of those yards and the Blue Devils overcame a 23-point deficit in the third quarter before falling by three points in the 58-55 final.

"We need to work on some stuff," Donald said Saturday. "We got a win, so we're going to be happy about the win, but I'm kind of disappointed as far as letting them score 55 points on us. I'm real disappointed in that part.

"But that's what we have practice for, that's what we have film for, to try to build off what we did wrong and what we did right. Everything will be worked out next week."

Duke's comeback in the second half included a one-play, 75-yard pass from Brandon Connette to Brandon Baxton, and the Blue Devils followed that with a methodical 79-yard drive in eight plays on their next possession.

Pitt's defense made its own stand with interceptions on Duke's next two drives, including a pick that redshirt junior linebacker Anthony Gonzalez took to the end zone to give Pitt a 17-point lead. But the Blue Devils answered again with another long drive and then took advantage of a short field from a muffed punt snap on the Panthers' next possession to cut the lead to three.

Only a miracle catch on third-and-7 by redshirt junior receiver Kevin Weatherspoon, who entered the game with zero career receptions, could save the trip to North Carolina for the Panthers, who returned home to Pittsburgh Saturday night with a 2-1 overall record, a 1-1 mark in the ACC and a defense that ranks in the bottom ten nationally in total defense and scoring defense.

"We've played three different types (of offense), but when it comes down to it, we just have to do our job," Gonzalez said after the game. "At times we did do our job and made some plays, but at times we didn't do our jobs and they got us with big plays. We can't allow that.

"We just have to go in, watch film, correct it and just get better."

Gonzalez is right about Pitt's opponents thus far. Florida State was full of athletes led by redshirt freshman phenom Jameis Winston. New Mexico, which was held in check by Pitt's defense for much of the game, ran an option attack. And Duke mixed zone-read rushing from the spread with its passing game.

Head coach Paul Chryst said after the game that spread offenses intend to do what their name implies: spread out a defense in order to create one-on-one matchups. And if the targeted defender in those situations doesn't execute his assignment properly, then the offense will roll up 500 yards of offense and 53 points.

Like Duke did.

"Absolutely, we've got to do everything we can as a coaching staff to find ways to help," Chryst said Saturday. "This is who we are right now, and we've got to work to get better."

Fortunately for Pitt's defense, the offense was rolling in its own right. Quarterback Tom Savage threw six touchdown passes, while Devin Street and Tyler Boyd each topped 100 receiving yards and James Conner rushed for 173 yards.

But that didn't make it easier for Donald and the defense to absorb Duke's prolific production.

"I wouldn't say frustrated," Donald said. "There's disappointment at times when you give up a first-play drive for 75 yards and let them score. But we stayed together and we kept fighting and we came out with a win. I'm happy with that."

"It's good to get a win, but we do have to correct a lot of things," Gonzalez said. "We have to tackle better, do our assignments better, and just overall be a better defense and convert on third downs and stop them."




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