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November 11, 2013

Monday Notes: Vinopal, momentum and more

After recording seven tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble in the win over Notre Dame, redshirt junior safety Ray Vinopal was named the ACC Defensive Back of the Week on Monday. That's quite a step up from Vinopal's previous position as fan whipping boy for seemingly any breakdown in Pitt's secondary.

But Vinopal said after Saturday's game that he wasn't thinking about vindication after eight games of criticism, and head coach Paul Chryst said during his Monday press conference that he had seen no such sentiment from the Cardinal Mooney product.

"I love the way that Ray has approached the whole year and the way he works. He made some big plays for us. The strip was obviously huge. But there was no 'I told you so,' at least that I know of.

"I think he loves the game, and I think he's exactly what you want out of a teammate. Any guy is happy when they contribute; there's that personal part. But I think he was truly, like a lot of our guys, just happy to contribute to a win and getting us back into winning a game."

Chryst's admiration for Vinopal was such that he expects the other players on the team to take note of how the redshirt junior has handled the aftermath of his breakout game.

"I think we all kind of look around and see how people respond," Chryst said. "The thing that I'm confident (about) is that he'll be the same guy that he's been every Monday this season. I think all of those things factor in and are important: how you act, how you handle adversity, how you handle success, and he's one of those guys that you want the young guys to emulate."


No change overall

Chryst said his expectation for Vinopal's reaction to the win was similar to what he expects to see from the whole team. Beating Notre Dame was nice, but now the Panthers have to start preparing for this week's opponent, ACC foe North Carolina.

"Game day's a great day; it starts when you wake up and finishes when you go to bed. You've got to be appreciative of all the work that went in and what guys did to achieve that. You say it was a good day, and then you wake up and start the next week. We're pretty lucky: we've got another game to get ready for.

"Absolutely, it was good to get a win. But it wasn't like guys were skipping in the building and whistling 'zippity-doo-dah.'"


Building

Never mind the fact that Pitt beat Notre Dame: the key takeaways from Saturday's game were the second-half comeback and the all-important fifth win for the season. On the former, Pitt showed an ability to do something that the Panthers haven't done very often over the last 10 years: they came back from a second-half deficit and made key plays to clinch a victory.

That kind of performance and the resiliency that drove it should provide some confidence for the team going forward, but Chryst pointed out on Monday that the future will decide whether Pitt's win over Notre Dame creates momentum.

"I think that's to be determined, what we do with it," he said. "On its merit, it was a good night, and what we take out of it and what we can move forward with, I think we'll be able to talk about. But the thing that I was most proud of was the way guys just kept playing. You look at that tape and compare it to previous games, and it wasn't a different team, it wasn't different guys; we just made some plays in the right situations and found a way to win."


Up front

One area that seemed to improve Saturday night was the offensive line, as Pitt had a bit more success running the ball - 112 rushing yards against Notre Dame vs. minus-5 at Georgia Tech - and didn't allow a quarterback sack all game.

As with everything, Chryst is taking a measured approach to the performance of the line.

"I thought we did some good things up front; it wasn't like, all of a sudden, there was a great transformation. I think we just made some plays.

"For different reasons - and I think the line was a big part of it - we were able to get some running game going. I thought that Tommy (Savage) did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands; he hit some check-downs, especially early. So I think there were a lot of reasons why we had a chance to be a little more successful offensively. And I think we did do some good things on the O-line."


"New" QB for UNC

North Carolina will be led into Heinz Field by redshirt sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams, who took over for senior Bryn Renner after the latter was lost for the season with a shoulder injury suffered against N.C. State earlier this month.

Williams actually had a start this season and worked in "change-of-pace" duty before taking over for Renner full-time. In eight games, he has completed 58.5% of his passes for 722 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions, and he is the Tar Heels' third-leading rusher with 247 yards and two touchdowns.

"They're different (quarterbacks), but they've still got the same big offensive line, I think their tight end is a heck of a player, I think they've got a number of receivers that, no matter who's playing the quarterback position, they're dangerous," Chryst said. "I think the quarterback's part of it, but it's also their scheme and what they're doing and who they do it with."

Still, Chryst did concede that Williams presents a unique threat himself.

"He's athletic, I think he's got a live arm and obviously they trust him quite a bit. And I think he's got good weapons around him. I think he's dangerous."


Atmospheric pressure

Chances are, this week's game against North Carolina won't reach the fever pitch of last week's late-game excitement, when a crowd of 65,500 showed its enthusiasm as Pitt rallied from a 21-14 third-quarter deficit to take the 28-21 win.

But Chryst was quick to point out on Monday how important the crowd was in helping secure the victory.

"That was one thing: I thought the atmosphere Saturday night was a heck of an atmosphere. I know the players got a lot of energy from it and it was good."


Injuries

Chryst confirmed that freshman cornerback Titus Howard didn't finish the Notre Dame game due to injury, but he did not have any updates on Howard's status, nor the status of Trenton Coles or Scott Orndoff, who also left the game with injuries.

"We'll see how the week plays out," he said.








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