At 4-4, it's been a season of ups and downs for this year's Pitt football team.
Defensive tackle has certainly been one of those ups. Donald, probably more so than any point in his career, proved how good of a player he can be in Saturday's loss to Georgia Tech.
Yes, a 21-10 loss, yet Donald is still getting rave reviews for his performance. The ACC thought enough of him to make him the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
What makes Donald's performance against Georgia Tech may not be so much the fact it was against a triple-option offense, but more in the way of Donald's production. Donald is having, arguably, the best season of his career. He finished with 11 solo stops against Georgia Tech, which matched his total from the five previous games combined--all games where he was still a major factor.
Consider this, as well. Of those 11 solo stops, six of them went for losses. The six tackles for loss are the most by any FBS player, let alone a defensive tackle. Not to mention, Georgia Tech was still pretty successful on offense. Obviously, they won the game. They rushed for 276 yards, but did not reach 300 yards on the ground for just the third time this season (BYU, Virginia Tech). They ran 63 plays, with Donald factoring in on 17 percent of all plays, 10 percent of all plays with a tackle for loss.
Defensive tackles, just based on where they're lined up, typical aren't in position to be the leading tackler. That in itself makes Donald's performance on Saturday all the more impressive, aside from going against one of the nation's top run defenses.
"The plays where he really hurt us were where we were going away, and coming out the back," Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said after the game. "We had a hard time picking him up. He's really quick."
This week's ACC honor is just the latest in a heavy number of accomplishments or watch lists that Donald is on. He has been named a first team "Midseason All-American" by CBSSports.com, ESPN.com, Phil Steele and SI.com. He's also a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award and a quarterfinalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy. He is also a strong candidate for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award. He's also a legitimate All-America candidate.
Not just on the field, Donald is also a leader on this Pitt team. For as tough as he plays on the field, he's not a 'rah-rah' vocal type of leader.
"I'm not the vocal guy, but at times, if I feel someone is down, I have to be that vocal guy," Donald said.
While the offense couldn't answer in a lot of cases on Saturday, when Donald was making plays, he says he's not one to point fingers or ask for someone else to help him out in making plays.
"Just make sure we're together as a team, or as a unit," Donald said. "Last week, I had to have a little talk with someone during the game. Nothing major, just making sure all my guys are together. We just go out there and do our job, trying to get the ball back to the offense."
Head coach Paul Chryst also chimed in on Donald's leadership abilities.
"Leadership comes from within your personality," Chryst said. "There's no better way than to have his actions speak, not just with his play – and he is playing at a really high level – but also with his preparation, the way he competes in practice, the way he goes about things every day. I think he's a tremendous example to our young guys about how to approach it and how that translates in the game. He's vocal at certain times, but he's not giving speeches because I don't think that's what inspires him. But he's certainly aware of how he can help the team."
In eight games this season, Donald has totaled 36 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, nine quarterback sacks, eight QB hurries and three forced fumbles. He leads the nation in tackles for loss (2.4 per game), ranks third in sacks (1.1 per game) and is 12th in forced fumbles (0.38 per game).