Pitt Football: Monday Notebook

After six games last year, Pitt started off 2-4. This time around, Pitt is off to a 4-2 start. Can we expect a similar second half of the season in 2013? Paul Chryst talked about how this team has met expectations so far.

Georgia Tech KICKOFF SET
Prior to Paul Chryst's weekly news conference, the ACC announced at Pitt's game at Georgia Tech on November 2 will be a 7 pm kickoff. The game is also the Ramblin' Wreck's Homecoming. It's Pitt's third night game out of its first eight.

This Saturday's game at Navy could be coming at a good time for Pitt. It marks the second of three games this season the Panthers see a triple-option offense.

The first time, Pitt allowed a season-high 213 yards to New Mexico's attack. That number might seem high, but considering New Mexico ran the ball 52 times, the Pitt defense still kept the Lobos to four yards a carry.

"The next two weeks are totally different than what we saw earlier," Chryst said. "I think certainly this week we have to do a great job in getting ready for it. Our scout team has to do a great job helping us to get ready for it."

While Pitt still had to worry about the pass with New Mexico's offense, there is less emphasis on the pass with these next two offenses they will see. Navy averages 304.2 rushing yards a game, just 93 passing yards a game. Georgia Tech averages 304.4 rushing yards a game, 125.5 passing yards a game.

Just because they won't be focusing on the pass, doesn't mean the quarterback isn't a threat. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the team's leading rusher, averaging 75.5 yards a game on 21 carries per game.

One thing especially concerning on the defense will be watching for cut blocks. Linebacker Shane Gordon says it's all part in just preparing for the option style of attack.

"You know it's coming, because you know every play you're going to be getting cut-blocked; someone's coming with the lead block every play," Gordon said. "Ankles knees, all that. You just have to play good with your hands."

One of the surprising themes of Saturday's play was Pitt rolling out several multiple defensive back packages, including less of linebacker Todd Thomas. Though Thomas did play, freshman defensive back Titus Howard was in the starting lineup. Terrish Webb and Trenton Coles also saw increased reps.

Thomas entered Saturday's game with just over six tackles a game, and was coming off a 12-tackle performance at Virginia Tech.

Chryst added Monday that it was part of the gameplan not to include Thomas--not because of something he couldn't do, or wasn't doing. It was an idea of getting more defensive backs on the field, to counter Old Dominion's spread offense.

Old Dominion still threw for 312 yards against the extra defensive backs, the third-highest output by a Pitt opponent this year.

"I'm happy with the way Todd's progressed and I thought we had the right plan for what we we're doing," Chryst defended. "I think it's our job to make sure we're putting players in positions for them to be successful. It wasn't like Todd doesn't have the speed or wasn't ready if something were to happen. We just thought we were better off with some more DBs in there."

Without question, the bright spot of Saturday's game was Isaac Bennett rushing for 240 yards on 30 carries.

Chryst said he wasn't surprised that Bennett could handle that kind of workload, nor does it change the coaching staff's confidence in him one way or the other.

"I think it's also good for a back to feel that and be able to do it," Chryst said. "I don't think it changes our confidence in him or his confidence. I was certainly happy for him but I wasn't shocked or didn't think he could handle that number of carries. I think he'd be the same way."

Offensive lineman Matt Rotheram says in a game like that, it not only creates a good rhythm for the offense, but also increases the line's confidence when a back performs as Bennett did on Saturday.

"It's high after that game, after what we've been through," Rotheram said of the group's confidence. "It where it needs to be heading into the rest of the season."

Bennett now leads the team with 450 yards on the season, an average of 5.8 yards a carry. He had 378 yards rushing in 17 career games prior to this season.

Aaron Donald didn't have any sacks against Old Dominion, but he still leads the nation with 1.33 sacks per game and 2.08 tackles for loss per game. His 26.5 career sacks is the most by any active player.

Going back to last year, Pitt is 8-4 in its last 12 regular season games. A sign that things are on the right track, but is this team where Chryst though it would be at this point of the season?

"The season is a journey and we would never pin the players and say, ‘This is where you have to be at this point,'" Chryst said. "I think our job is to make sure they're being the best they can be and you just have to keep trying to grow."

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