Pitt's Aaron Donald drawing lots of attention, double-teams
When Aaron Donald crouches in the center of Pitt's defensive line, he's not sure which big body will attack him.
“Sometimes the tackle comes to me,” he said. “Sometimes the center slides to me.”
This much is certain: Whether it's the tackle or center, he won't take on Donald alone.
Donald, the most celebrated member of Pitt's struggling front seven, has been getting double-teamed on many snaps over the first two games.
“It isn't easy, but it's football,” he said. “I love it.”
No one doubts Donald's love for the game, but the result has been the neutralization of Pitt's most potentially impactful defensive player. Donald, who recorded 11 sacks while earning second-team All-Big East honors last season, has yet to put a quarterback on the ground.
There has been a lack of big plays for the Pitt defense — one sack and no fumble recoveries or interceptions — leading to a freefall in the national rankings in rushing and total defense going into Saturday at Heinz Field against No. 13 Virginia Tech.
Donald, a junior from Penn Hills, said he doesn't know how often he is double-teamed, but it really doesn't matter.
“That's no excuse,” he said. “You have to get off that block and make plays.”
Coach Paul Chryst said Donald should get accustomed to the attention.
“Aaron has to learn to deal with it; he probably will the rest of his career because he's a good player,” Chryst said. “To me, other guys have to step up.”
The main problem with the defense appears to be an inability to get everyone going in the right direction.
“It's just mental mistakes,” Donald said. “Basic stuff we can fix. We have to keep working and learning the playbook more and more. We are giving the quarterback too much time.”
But it's the run defense that has been exposed. Pitt (0-2) is 106th of 120 Division I schools in defending the run (231.5 yards per game). When Cincinnati running back George Winn ran 58 yards on the first play last week, it was the result of mental breakdowns, Donald said.
“We are not doing the play (the coaches) call,” he said. “We are not communicating together, and that's what we have to work on.”
Free safety Jarred Holley agreed that mental errors are the problem more than players getting beat physically.
“There are little stints of where we look like a defense, and there are a couple plays where it is discombobulated,” he said. “Whether it's studying more tape or asking more questions, that's the things we need to do.”
Chryst said improving communication is key.
“What can we control? That's one,” he said. “We as coaches, too, have to make sure if there are too many of those problems, are we asking them to do something that they can't do? That's an area I want to see. Can we handle it? Can we get better?”
Notes: Chryst said cornerback K'Waun Williams, injured since the latter stages of training camp, could have played against Cincinnati. ... Linebacker Todd Thomas, who had knee surgery in January, also is getting better but won't be on the field Saturday.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.