Chas Alecxih summed it up best. The redshirt junior defensive tackle has blossomed in his first year as a starter with 28 tackles, five tackles for losses, and 4.5 sacks--third on the team behind Jabaal Sheard (9) and Brandon Lindsey (8) who are also having career years. Alecxih is also instrumental in Pitt's run defense is ranked seventh in the country, and first in the Big East, allowing 93.8 yards a game on the ground.
He approaches the bye week as a time to just start over and go back to basics, regardless of what kind of career-year you‘re having.
"I can only talk about me personally; my game," Alecxih said. "For me, little things like getting off the ball every time; not thinking too much, using good footwork."
Then he thinks ahead; if he has a bad game, what can he go back and change. He enters that mindset into the present.
"I've been playing good, I can take it easy a little bit, then the next game I play bad because I haven't been working on those little things," Alecxih said. "Hopefully, I'm taking it seriously. Hopefully, that won't show up in my game."
Alecxih also said right from the end of the Louisville game, the coaching staff has put an emphasis on not just looking ahead to UConn, but not getting ahead of themselves.
"They came in (after the Louisville game), and said, ‘Congratulations, get over it,'" Alecxih said. "We got four games left. We have to come in this bye week, and we have a lot of work to do. It's kind of nice, because we have off Friday and Saturday. We can relax a bit. Today's a work day. Tomorrow's a work day. Then, we come back on Sunday, and it's a work day."
So far, so good. Dave Wannstedt won't go into making predictions or anything for next Thursday's game at Uconn. So far, through the bye week, he likes the attitude of the team--not too far ahead of themselves, aware of what they need to improve on, but most importantly, a willingness to get work done--a phrase he likes to use a lot.
"They understand the importance of working," Wannstedt said. "I hope they would understand the message that was laid out there--week two--that we have to keep working hard in order to improve. We want to play our best football the last game of the season."
Dom DeCicco--who led Pitt with 11 tackles, and had an interception in Saturday's win, uses the bye week to rest. Knowing there's almost a full two weeks of preparing for an opponent, he says the team uses the extra time to watch extra film. He also said that while they don't have the luxury of being able to watch film for an extra week of an opponent, he said there's also a focus to not over-prepare for an opponent.
"It's a great time to get your legs fresh again; all the games and punishment we've been putting in our legs," DeCicco said. "We've been focusing on UConn a lot ,and watching a lot of film. We'll start our preparation for them in practice.
"You watch more film, and you get to know them better. It just kind of slows down. You do get to slow down and watch more film. This one, we'll know our opponent better than we do."
This is Pitt's second bye week of the season. Under Wannstedt, the Panthers are just 2-7 coming off a bye week, including a loss to Miami at home earlier this year. That loss was tough, because the Panthers were still adjusting to the season. Two weeks in, they had a bye week. This time around--as evidenced by the comments by DeCicco and Alecxih, Pitt is more ready for the bye this time--it‘s more needed that it was on September 18.
Here's a look at Pitt's outcomes coming off the bye, under Wannstedt:
11/3/2005, 42-20 loss at Louisville
11/24/2005, 45-13 loss at West Virginia
11/4/2006, 22-12 loss at South Florida
10/10/2007, 48-45 loss to Navy
11/17/2007, 20-16 loss at Rutgers
10/18/2008, 42-21 win at Navy
11/22/2008, 28-21 loss at Cincinnati
11/7/2009, 37-10 win vs. Syracuse
9/23/2010, 31-3 loss vs. Miami
Of the nine games, only three were at home--the 2007 Navy game, last year's Syracuse game and the Miami game earlier this year. Syracuse was the only win at home. This isn't the first time Pitt has been on a roll, following a bye week. Pitt entered the 2006 game at South Florida at 6-2. Pitt won their fifth game in a row against Navy in 2008, boosting their record to 5-1, before falling flat to Rutgers for homecoming after the bye week. They came off last year's bye with a 7-1 record, and not only beat Syracuse off the bye, but also defeated Notre Dame the week after.
There's a number of scenarios that have played out over the years, and a number of times--such as recent years--where Pitt has been sitting with a record of 5-3 or better. There are a number of examples from Pitt teams of the past that this current team can look to and be reminded of. So far, the attitude is just working to improve and make the last game of the season its best.
"We'll take advantage of the days, practice-wise, but I want our guys to be fresh too," Wannstedt said. "We'll get the work done that we need to get done. I think it's all how you approach it. There's a good vibe on our team. When there's a good vibe, usually people don't mind working, and you take advantage of it."