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Pitt senior Turnley emerges as leader

| Monday, Sept. 3, 2012, 8:26 p.m.
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst on the sideline during his first game against Youngstown State at Heinz Field Sept. 1, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

From a lofty vantage point — 6 foot, 6 inches off the ground — Pitt center Ryan Turnley sees his teammates clearly.

As a senior who paid his dues for three years before earning a regular job, he takes his job as a leader seriously.

Turnley and the Panthers returned to practice Monday, trying desperately to turn the page after one of the worst defeats in school history — 31-17 to Youngstown State.

The margin of defeat was the largest for a team from a BCS conference against an FCS team since New Hampshire beat Northwestern, 34-17, on Sept. 9, 2006.

With the Big East opener at Cincinnati only two days away, Pitt's players have little time to feel sorry for themselves. Turnley is one of the seniors making sure others, especially younger players, are ready to tackle whatever adversity may be next.

“We have to get some of the younger guys to understand what it takes to win in college and the preparation it's going to take,” he said. “It might take some time, but they are eager to do it. We had guys stepping up at practice. It's exciting for me — young guys who want to come in and work.”

When he was younger, Turnley said he followed the lead of veteran offensive linemen C.J. Davis, John Malecki and Jason Pinkston.

“For me, it might have been easier,” he said, “but I'm trying to provide the same thing for some of the young guys.”

Coach Paul Chryst said he was pleased with how the players reacted to the loss when they came in Sunday to watch film, meet with coaches and try to overcome their disappointment.

“Players in general bounce back off of all games pretty quick,” he said. “There are times when adults can probably learn from that. They had the right response. They were not happy with what happened, but they were not hanging their heads, either.

“They saw the film and there is a little bit of, ‘Yeah, we are going to do everything we can to change things.' ”

Chryst said he noticed some players playing hesitantly, a situation that can be traced to youth on defense with eight first-time starters. He didn't name any players specifically, but an injury to defensive end T.J. Clemmings and the loss of nose tackle Tyrone Ezell and backup end Shayne Hale to suspensions compromised depth on the line.

Mistakes were visible on film and, as such, should be easy to fix, Chryst said.

“There are areas we need to get cleaned up, but they are areas that are controllable,” Chryst said. “They are tangible.”

The other problem is whether or not the six players suspended Saturday for undisclosed disciplinary reasons will be permitted to play Thursday.

Chryst said it's possible, but he wants to see how they handle the work week.

All six — Ezell, Hale, running back Rushel Shell, wide receivers Ronald Jones and Chris Davis and safety Anthony Gonzalez — were at practice Monday.

“Are they going to help us win the game?” Chryst said. “Every guy that gets on that plane. Every guy who dresses for the game is there for one purpose and that's to represent Pittsburgh and to go compete and try to win a game.

“If they can help us do that, then absolutely they will be with us.”

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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