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October 14, 2013

Monday Notes: Injuries, sacks and more

Pitt receiver Devin Street took a hard hit from Virginia Tech cornerback Kyshoen Jarrett late in the Panthers' 19-9 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Saturday. The hit knocked Street from the game with what was termed a "shoulder injury," but there appeared to also be contact between the two players' heads.

No penalty was called on the play, and ACC head of officials Doug Rhoads told ACC Digital Network host Jeff Fischel after the game that the hit was legal. Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said he addressed the play with conference officials.

"First glance, I questioned what we were seeing and brought it up with the league and got the response. Clearly, it wasn't a penalty," Chryst said Monday. He was then asked if he thought the play involved helmet-to-helmet contact.

"The league told us it was clearly not."

When asked if he agreed with that assessment, Chryst simply responded, "Doesn't matter."

The hit on Street would seem to be the second time in as many games that Chryst believed one of his players took contact to the head without any penalty called on the opponent. Against Virginia, quarterback Tom Savage took a direct shot to the helmet as he slid after a run, and no flag was thrown.

So when asked to evaluate the implementation of new targeting rules this season, Chryst was tentative, at best.

"It's been…our games, it's been…I don't know."

Chryst added - when asked - that he would not want his players to make hits like the one Street took from Jarrett.


Injuries

Street and freshman running back James Conner both left the Virginia Tech game with shoulder injuries. Chryst had no definitive answer on whether those two will be ready to practice this week, let alone Saturday's game against Old Dominion at Heinz Field.

"We'll kind of wait and see here. I don't think we're planning to do anything with them (in Monday's practice), but we'll see as the week progresses."


Sack issues

Savage has been sacked 15 times in the last two games, including eight in the loss at Virginia Tech Saturday. And while much of that criticism has fallen on the offensive line, Chryst was quick to point out that the front five bear some, but not all of the responsibility for the protection issues.

"It's wrong to put this all on the o-line," he said after citing several examples of protection breakdowns, including a lineman not getting the help he was expecting on a play, tight ends getting beat and running backs failing to block, in addition to a few plays where the linemen flat-out got beat.

"Everyone's got to own it, and it starts with coaching," Chryst said. "I have to own it and we have to get better at it this week."

Still, the inexperienced group of linemen Pitt has used in every game this season has struggled, and improvement in that unit can go a long way in alleviating some of the protection concerns.

"I think we just have to get back to trusting some of the things that they've been doing or are doing, just individual technique-wise," Chryst said about the potential for improvement on the line. "We have to do a better job of making sure they understand, be it the scheme or where you're getting help, if you're getting help."


The offense overall

Pitt's offense has struggled mightily in the last two games, putting up 409 yards of total offense combined against Virginia Tech and Virginia. Chryst offered another explanation for the struggles on Monday.

"I think it goes back to, we've got to do a better job of, when you get a chance to make plays, make plays. That changes games. Maybe it's running the football or making a catch, then, all of a sudden, you get a little bit of momentum. I think there are a lot of things to it, and I don't want to be a broken record, but we've got to own it and get better."

Chryst went on to talk about issues with long down-and-distances, problems with the running game and the sacks. But as he was detailing the various concerns, he came to a point where a broad summation seemed to be in order.

"We just gotta play better offense. Period. We can sit there and talk all we want; we gotta play better."


The other side

Pitt's defense, by contrast has played well as of late. The Panthers gave up 10 points on Virginia Tech's first two drives Saturday, but then the defense tightened up and held the Hokies largely in check.

"I like that, hopefully, we're getting better on defense; you can certainly see some signs of it. And we're going to need every phase; we need them to be good. We're certainly getting some good play out of a number of guys. I feel like we're playing a little bit faster on defense right now, and hopefully that keeps progressing."

Pitt was led redshirt junior linebacker Todd Thomas, who had a game-high 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

"I thought Todd played one of his better games. He was physical, he was in the right spots…he played well."


The quarterback

Old Dominion (4-2) is averaging 45 points per game, and the Monarchs are led by quarterback Taylor Heinicke, a versatile offensive weapon who averages 348 yards passing and 39 yards rushing per game. He has thrown 14 touchdown passes and has rushed for a quartet of scores, and Chryst said that Heinicke is a dangerous player.

"He obviously has a great understanding of the game," Chryst said. "He can get the ball out of his hands fast. Offensively, just formationally, they really spread the field, and he can get it to all the spots. So he's obviously got a strong arm, but he gets it out of his hand. He's an accurate passer, and when teams do some things coverage-wise and they aren't disciplined in their rush lanes, he has exposed people.

"He is athletic, but he certainly is going to try to extend the play and try to get the ball down the field.
Some quarterbacks that run, they're good runners; but once they move off the spot, they're going. He doesn't do that. He keeps it alive. He's a good player, and I think they've got some good players around him obviously; guys are doing a nice job after the catch and separating. It will be a good challenge for us."




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