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October 29, 2013

Football notes: Complacency, Conner and more

Several Pitt players had an interesting take on what happened to the Panthers in the second half of Saturday's 24-21 loss to Navy in Annapolis.

Pitt took a 13-7 lead into halftime with both sides of the ball riding some momentum. The offense had just driven the length of the field to score the go-ahead touchdown, and the defense had played a virtually flawless half, giving up just 73 yards to Navy's productive rushing attack and only allowing points on a fluky tipped pass in the second quarter.

There were reasons for Pitt to feel good heading into the third quarter, but some players said after the game that perhaps the feelings were too good for the situation.

"It's very disappointing," redshirt junior defensive end Bryan Murphy said. "Every time you lose a game, it's disappointing, especially this one where we had it. We just did too many things wrong. Everybody, me included. Absolutely. Tip your hats to them; they played a great game, they came after us. I thought we got a little over-confident at the end of the first half maybe when we were moving the ball on them a little bit. But they played a great game and kept after us and we just couldn't hold it up."

Redshirt senior quarterback Tom Savage agreed with Murphy's thoughts on the halftime attitude of the team.

"We all were (confident), and we were all ready to go out there and do what we're taught and go win the game," Savage said. "I think we got a little complacent, and I think there's a lot of growing we can do from this game."

Instead of building on its 13-7 lead, Pitt was outscored 17-8 in the second half as Navy hit a last-second field goal for the win. On Monday, head coach Paul Chryst was asked if he picked up on any complacency or overconfidence at halftime.

"I didn't sense that," he said. "I have to do a much, much, much better job of coaching, because any team, to be complacent in a game and to be overconfident in a game, that's on me."

It was natural for the team to have some confidence at halftime, given how the offense and defense were playing at the end of the second quarter. But Chryst said that if the players allowed that confidence to affect their performances in the second half, then there are significant issues to address.

"I think (with) genuine confidence, you are never overconfident. And genuine respect for the game would never let you be complacent in a game. That's on me; I have to do a better job.

"If that's where we're at, then we have to do a better job. Because that's disrespecting the game."

According to redshirt junior linebacker Todd Thomas, Navy's vaunted resiliency played a big role in deciding who would win on Saturday.

"I think we played good today, everybody played good; it was just that they wanted it a little bit more than we did," Thomas said. "They came out and played harder and ended up with more points than us."


Injuries

Redshirt senior offensive lineman Cory King missed his second consecutive game Saturday due to injury. Chryst said there's a chance he could return when Pitt plays at Georgia Tech this coming Saturday.

"Over the weekend he said he felt better, so we'll see how he does this week. I don't know what the week will bring, whether he can go at all; we'll just see how that goes."

Redshirt senior linebacker Shane Gordon left the game on the first drive of the third quarter.

"He came back and fortunately nothing's broke or structurally wrong," Chryst said of Gordon. "So it's just a matter of how much he can get the movement and tolerate with it. We'll see as the week (progresses)."


Defensive changes

Gordon was replaced at middle linebacker by freshman Matt Galambos, who finished the game as Pitt's second-leading tackler with seven stops. But Gordon was playing well in the first half, and Navy was held in check during that time.

So was there a connection between Gordon's absence and Navy's improved performance in the second half?

"I thought he was playing pretty well," Chryst said. "The truth of the matter is, kind of like we were in the third quarter, they didn't have many snaps (in the first half). So I don't know if it's that easy, that 'Boy, we were playing great defense and then Shane gets knocked out and there it goes.' I think they had a chance to run some plays and see how we're defending it…

"I thought Shane did a number of good things while he was in there and Matt certainly made some plays, too. I don't know if it's as easy as, Shane going out opened up the floodgate."


Punitive or otherwise?

Freshman running back James Conner left the Navy game, too, but his departure was under different circumstances. Four plays into the second quarter, as Pitt's fourth drive of the game was sitting on third-and-1 at the Navy 44, Conner fumbled on his seventh carry of the game. Navy recovered and scored one play later on a fluky deflected pass.

Conner did not step on the field again in Annapolis, and Chryst said after the game that the freshman from Erie was not injured. That statement seemed to suggest that Conner had been benched as punishment for the fumble, but Chryst said Monday that there was nothing punitive about it.

"James ran really hard; I liked the way that he ran. Even on the ones before the fumble, we have to keep hammering through him to take care of the ball. He was swinging the ball a little bit.

"What gets lost in it, too, is that Isaac had a pretty good week the week before. I liked the way James was running and wanted to make sure Isaac had enough kicks at the can. But it wasn't just because he fumbled that [he was] sitting the rest of the game.

"We have to help these guys grow and help them get through those things. I'm not into firing anybody. We have a lot of guys who make mistakes and we have to try to help them learn from them and get better, but we're not going to fire anyone for those or permanently put them on ice."


Boyd's touches

While redshirt senior receiver Devin Street set a new Pitt career receptions record with nine catches Saturday, freshman Tyler Boyd - who entered the game as the Panthers' leading receiver in 2013 - caught just three passes.

Chryst said Boyd's limited touches weren't a product of Navy's defense.

"I'm sure they were aware of where he's at and stuff. Some of the things we ran were mirrored routes, and we went to Devin on one and Tyler was open, too; [quarterback Tom Savage] picked one over the other. But I don't think they were doing anything special that we didn't see on film to Tyler."


Almost a turnover

Pitt nearly recorded a second interception in the game when redshirt junior safety Ray Vinopal got his hands on a Navy pass near the Pitt sideline. The officials said Vinopal was out of bounds, but replay appeared to show that he had one foot in-bounds.

Regardless, the play was not formally reviewed, and Chryst did not use a timeout to try to request a review.

"I thought that he got it down," Chryst said. "It's a quick (play) and I haven't seen the TV copy; it doesn't matter now. I thought that he had it and I was communicating with the official, 'Are you getting buzzed? Are you they looking at it?' And they don't know if they're looking at, but that's why I asked 'Are you getting buzzed? Are you getting buzzed?' I haven't gotten the report back yet on ruling, but it doesn't matter. But that was one that…we're supposed to review all of those, so you don't want to waste [a timeout]. I thought it was a heck of a play by Ray."


Both sides are dangerous

As was the case last week, the focus leading into Pitt's Saturday evening matchup with Georgia Tech will be on the Yellow Jackets' offense, which employs Navy's triple-option rushing attack to much success, the Panthers will have plenty of challenges dealing with Georgia Tech's defense, too.

"I think they're really good; they're really good," Chryst said. "Up front, they're active, they play fast, they're explosive, they'll hit you, their secondary plays with confidence, and part of that is that they have some guys up front that put some heat on you fast, so I think you can be confident with that.
They're very explosive and very good on offense and deserve all the accolades that they get, but defensively, I think they're playing really well and I think they'll be one of the better defenses we face."


Standing room only

Pitt announced Monday afternoon that reserved seating for the Nov. 9 game against Notre Dame at Heinz Field is officially sold out. Standing room only tickets are available at pittsburghpanthers.com. The game time will be announced Sunday.





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