If Pitt is going to be a young team, this coaching staff is not shy about putting guys in the right position to make plays, and in turn, helping this team win.
That was pretty evident as Pitt dismantled New Mexico 49-27 on Saturday, as the Panthers even their record at 1-1.
""It was good to play and come away with the win," Chryst said. "Anytime you win the game, there are players that do things to help the team win by making plays.
"Clearly, there are a lot of areas we have to clean up. Our special teams were not very good as a whole. Offensively, we had turnovers and another ball we did not lose. We gave up two interceptions and a fumble. We jumped three times on the defensive line. Yet, at the same time, guys made some good plays."
Pitt was sparked on the ground by James Conner and Isaac Bennett. Both players crossed the 100-yar mark on the day, and for the first time in their respective career--Conner with 119 yards and two scores, Bennett with 101 yards and teo touchdowns. Tyler Boyd ran for a touchdown, and caught another--one that will be talked about for quite some time. And, Tom Savage--in just his second game back--threw for a pair of touchdowns.
Savage completed 13-17 passes for 236 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Aside from the picks, it's one of the most efficient outings of Savage's career.
""Absolutely, I think we did a great job on offense today," Savage said. "I think we had a good tempo going the whole game and we played well."
It's safe to say Boyd, after his performance Saturday, has lived up to the hype. He finished with five catches for 127 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a 33-yard touchdown. In two games, Boyd has touched the ball 14 times for a total of 311 yards.
"I just feel really good," Boyd said afterwards. "It felt really good to get back out on that field, especially after a loss, to go out there and get a win. We came up in the huddle and talked as an offense that we had to have a better performance than we did the first week, so that's what we did. We executed all of the plays and kept scoring."
And we can't forget about a stellar defensive effort led by Aaron Donald, unofficially with five tackles, four tackles for losses and two sacks. Todd Thomas, in his first start of the season, finished with 10 tackles, including two for losses. Safety Jason Hendricks also came up in run support, tying Thomas for the team lead with 10 tackles.
"Yeah, that was just our way to get off the ball and disturb something in the backfield," Donald said. "I was just trying to make plays out there. Our job was to stop the dive and behind us they were going to handle everything else."
From an offensive efficiency standpoint, Pitt scored six touchdowns on its first eight offensive series. The only two fails were ill-advised throws by Savage--interceptions. Pitt's first five touchdowns were scored by true freshmen.
After throwing the pick on the first play of the game, the Pitt defense held New Mexico, and the Lobos missed a 49-yard field goal attempt.
With the score still tied at 0-0, Pitt was able to answer. Savage overcame the interception, leading the Panthers on a seven-play, 71-yard drive, capping it off with a four-yard touchdown pass to Scott Orndoff.
It was a heavy dose of freshmen on the second drive of the game, highlighted by a 51-yard reception by Tyler Boyd, that set Pitt up at the New Mexico 8. Also on the drive, Dorian Johnson made his collegiate debut as an extra tight end, Conner rushed twice and of course Chris Blewitt tacked on the extra point.
On Pitt's next drive, Boyd capped it off--this time, a 33-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep for his first career touchdown. Pitt used the run to set up the pass, highlighted by a 14-yard run from James Conner.
Conner, on Pitt's fourth drive of the day, capped it off with a one-yard touchdown run--the first of his career. Conner also set that drive up with a long run.
But how was Pitt getting the ball back? That would be thanks to a defensive effort, mainly Aaron Donald, who was getting into the backfield after being fairly silent last week against Florida State.
Even when he missed out on a sack, overplaying the quarterback in one instance, Bryan Murphy was there for a sack. Pitt's defensive effort was supported by what Donald can do when he's on the field--his explosiveness. By how he played, he took some pressure off and made it easy for his supporting cast of linebackers and defensive backs to make plays.
Pitt led 21-3 after one quarter of play, the most points they've scored in a quarter since September 12, 2009 at Buffalo.
It wasn't all good for Pitt in the first half. After Lafayette Pitts bobbled a punt return, the Lobos pounced on it, recovering the loose ball at the Pitt 38--Pitt's second turnover of the game.
New Mexico got as close as the goal line, before getting hit with a delay of game penalty. They settled for the field goal, a 22-yarder from Justus Adams, making it a 21-6 deficit with 10:05 left in the first half.
Pitt quickly answered with a four-play drive. This time, the damage was done on the ground. After a couple runs from Bennett, and a completion to Street, Conner bounced outside off right tackle. Once he got outside, he was gone, 38 yards for his second touchdown of the day. Pitt took a commanding 28-6 lead, 8:11 left in the second quarter.
Pitt threatened again, driving all the way to the New Mexico 13 yard-line. This time, after a 13-yard completion to Street, Savage rolled to his left and forced an interception. He thought he had his tight end on the play. In hindsight, he could have just thrown the ball away. Being that he was in such a good groove--only two incompletions in the first half on 12 passing attempts--Savage let go of the ball, with enough time for Dallas Bollema to make a read on it and pick it off.
The Lobos answered with their most successful drive of the day. They started three other drives in Pitt territory that resulted in two field goals. Strangely, with their worst field position start of the day--their own 13--was their most sustained drive of the day. The Lobos were knocking on the door, going all the way to the Pitt 1 before a delay of game penalty set up a 4th-and-18. Donald ended things for good, on the drive, as he sacked quarterback Mitchem for a loss of seven.
Pitt wasn't quite done. They tacked on another touchdown, as Savage rolled to his right and found Boyd in the back corner of the end zone for his second touchdown of the day. Boyd was in double coverage, and despite a review, it was conclusive that Boyd made a highlight reel type of catch with both hands as time expired. Pitt took a 35-6 lead into halftime.
New Mexico started the second half on offense, but it was the Pitt defense that made the first strike in to half. On a third down run, Gautsche got held up by Thomas. In the act, Thomas forced Gautsche to fumble. It was recovered by Terrish Webb.
Pitt answered with a four-play drive, as Isaac Bennett took it in on an eight-yard touchdown run. Pitt went up 42-6, barely five minutes in to the second half.
Gautsche got the Lobos first touchdown of the day, a 1-yarder. Pitt led 42-13 with 4:20 left in the third quarter.
Gautsche kind of took over the second half, as a whole. He later added a 12-yard touchdown, following a Pitt fumble--Pitt's fourth turnover of the day.
After a Pitt punt--their first of the day--the New Mexico offense had things rolling again, mostly on the legs of Gautsche. They got as far as the Pitt 40. They ran a fake punt on fourth down, which fooled no one, especially linebacker Todd Thomas. Thomas, who snuffed it out from the start, capped off his return to the starting lineup with this play--eight tackles, including two for a loss.
Bennett capitalized, scoring on a 13-yard touchdown, which put him over the century mark for the day.
Gongbay added on last touchdown run, a 20-yarder, making it a 49-27 score.