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Pitt notebook: Inexperience shows for Panthers' defense

| Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012, 4:04 p.m.
Pitt cornerback Lafayette Pitts gets stiff armed by Youngstown State's Jamaine Cook in the first half at Heinz Field Sept. 1, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Paths to the football were off line, decisions ill-advised and production clearly lacking.

But in this case, the Pitt offense isn't the culprit.

A Panthers defense featuring eight first-time starters, six of whom didn't play last season, couldn't handle Youngstown State in the season-opening 31-17 loss Saturday at Heinz Field. The loss of linebackers Todd Thomas and Ejuan Price, who played last season but had offseason surgery, appears to have taken a toll.

Senior free safety Andrew Taglianetti used the phrases “shot in the mouth” and “learning lesson” to describe the humbling defeat to an FCS team that lost four games in the Missouri Valley Conference a year ago.

“This is where older guys like me have to step up and say, ‘This is a bad game. It can't happen again,'” he said.

Youngstown State used short routes and quick throws by quarterback Kurt Hess, who completed 13 of 23 for 154 yards. That was enough to neutralize Pitt's front four, led by tackle Aaron Donald, an All-Big East candidate. The result: Pitt never sacked Hess and failed to create a turnover.

“(Hess) was pretty comfortable,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said.

Taglianetti said Youngstown State's game plan worked well.

“(They ran) a lot of crossing routes underneath to kind of mess with the linebackers,” he said. “It's stuff that we know how to defend and stuff we've defended all camp, even last week when we were game-planning them.

“As one of the seniors on the defense, I'll take the blame for that. We just didn't communicate well enough across the board.”

On the way back

Running back Ray Graham is encouraged by how his knee responded to 14 carries, but he was discouraged by his fumble at the YSU 10-yard line.

“That's just something I can't let happen,” he said, “not if I want to be a lead back that I say I am.”

Graham said linebacker Dubem Nwadiogbu made a good play.

“He hit me dead on,” he said. “He gave me a little bruise (on the left arm).”

Graham had only three carries for 9 yards after halftime, as Pitt tried to play catch-up. He finished with 72 yards, including a long of 22.

“I'm getting back to the old Ray Graham,” he said.

No excuses

Chryst was in no mood to consider excuses, refusing to accept the installation of new systems as a reason for the loss.

“This is who we are right now,” he said, “and we are going to go forward.”

He grudgingly conceded that injuries to starting receivers Mike Shanahan and Devin Street during camp — they returned a week ago — could have contributed to the lack of timing in the passing game.

“I have seen us execute those with those guys (in practice), but absolutely, if you had gotten 40 more reps, maybe (there would be improvement),” he said.

Shell returning?

Chryst said he will have no further comment on the six players he suspended Saturday, but freshman running back Rushel Shell suggested on Twitter that he had been reinstated, tweeting:

• “S/o to all my loyal fans out there I'm back now and I promise not to let you down again.”

• “Sunday startin with a clean slate now the goal is to get better today!”

• “Everyones tough on a social network and I need to grow up!”

Chryst said the matters were handled internally.

“That is one area in this program that will not be sacrificed, and we are going to hold guys accountable for it,” he said. “We will not plan on talking anymore about it. We have a family, and we have some matters we have to take care of, and we did.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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