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October 20, 2013

Notebook: Defensive schemes, career days and more

Pitt beat Old Dominion 35-24 Saturday night at Heinz Field, and here's a collection of news and notes from the game.

- Pitt's win pushed the Panthers to 4-2 on the season, giving Pitt its best start since 2009 when the Panthers won nine of their first 10 games on the year.

- Seniors Devin Street (shoulder) and Cory King (back) did not dress for the game due to injury. King was supplanted in the starting lineup by fifth-year senior Ryan Schlieper. Redshirt junior tight end Manasseh Garner started the game at receiver for Street, and fifth-year senior Ed Tinker played a number of snaps in Street's place.

- Freshman running back James Conner did not play after suffering a shoulder injury against Virginia Tech.

- Isaac Bennett rushed for three touchdowns in the second quarter alone in Saturday's game. He's the first Pitt running back to rush for three touchdowns in a game since Ray Graham accomplished the feat against Maine on Sept. 10 2011.

- Those three second-quarter touchdowns marked the third time in 2013 Pitt that Pitt has scored 20-plus points in one quarter. The Panthers accomplished the feat in the first quarter against New Mexico on Sept. 14 and then in the first quarter against Duke the week.

- Bennett finished with 240 rushing yards on 30 carries - both career highs. The yardage total eclipsed his career mark set earlier this season against New Mexico when he racked up 101 yards. Bennett had the first 200-plus yard rushing game for Pitt since Ray Graham rushed for 226 yards against South Florida on Sept. 29, 2011.

- Kevin Weatherspoon's 56-yard punt return, which set up Bennett's second touchdown, was the longest punt return for Pitt since 2006 when Darrelle Revis scored on a 73-yard punt return against West Virginia.

- Tom Savage rushed for a touchdown in the second straight week. The fifth-year senior scrambled for a 5-yard score against Old Dominion after converting a 9-yard draw play for a touchdown against Virginia Tech last week.

- After punting on its first two drives, Pitt's offense heated up. Starting with 51 seconds left in the first quarter, the Panther offense scored a touchdown of five of its next six drives.

- Both teams combined for 24 penalties, accounting for 221 yards. Pitt entered the game averaging six penalties for 46.4 yards, but was flagged 10 times for 112 yards against Old Dominion

- The totals for both offenses were pretty similar as Old Dominion gained 405 yards to Pitt's 370. The Panthers gained 266 yards rushing while the Monarchs threw for 312 yards. On the opposite end, Pitt's passing attack amassed 104 yards, and Old Dominion ran for just 93 yards.

- Pitt's defense opened the game in a nickel package - four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs - and rotated from that personnel grouping to a dime package - four linemen, one linebacker and six defensive backs - throughout the game. The Panthers never used their "true" base 4-3 personnel Saturday night.

- Freshman cornerback Titus Howard was the fifth defensive back in the nickel; he made his first career start Saturday night and played every defensive snap. Howard recorded four tackles - two solo - and a half tackle for loss. In the dime package, redshirt freshman Trenton Coles was the sixth defensive back; he recorded two tackles in the game.

- Pitt used four defensive linemen throughout the night, but only the interior linemen played in a three-point stance; the ends worked as stand-up pass-rushers on the line of scrimmage throughout the game. Redshirt junior Bryan Murphy and redshirt sophomore Ejuan Price started the game at defensive end, and redshirt junior David Durham and redshirt sophomore Nicholas Grigsby rotated in as line-of-scrimmage pass-rushers.

- Murphy recorded three tackles, a sack and hurried the quarterback three times. He has now recorded three sacks on the season, which is a career high. Murphy has five sacks for his career. Price had three tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss.

- After recording a game-high 12 tackles in the loss to Virginia Tech last week, redshirt junior Todd Thomas did not play a snap on defense Saturday night. Thomas has not been involved with Pitt's nickel and dime packages all season, and with the absence of base 4-3 personnel groupings, he stayed on the sidelines against Old Dominion. Head coach Paul Chryst said there was nothing more to Thomas' lack of participation beyond the personnel demands of the game.

- Old Dominion's quick dink-and-dunk passing game neutralized Aaron Donald in the win. The senior defensive tackle finished with two tackles, a half tackle for loss, a pass breakup and two quarterback hurries. He also committed a roughing the passer penalty on a drive that ended in an Old Dominion touchdown.

- Redshirt junior safety Ray Vinopal recorded an interception in the fourth quarter. It was his first interception as a Pitt player since transferring from Michigan. He did have one pick while with the Wolverines in 2010.

- With Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke throwing for 312 yards, the Panther defense has allowed a 300-plus yard passer in three of its six games this season.

- Old Dominion kicker Jarod Brown made a 54-yard field goal in the first quarter into the open end of the stadium. It was the longest kick in Heinz Field history. It broke the record of former Pitt kicker Kevin Harper, who booted a 52-yard kick against Cincinnati on Nov. 5 2011. The previous profession record was held by Jeff Reed, who also kicked a 52-yarder against Atlanta in 2010. Brown missed two more tries from 54 yards in the second quarter.

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