Defense looking up at Pitt
Safety Andrew Taglianetti said Pitt's recent defensive success has nothing to do with players finally buying into a new system.
That happened long ago.
“From day one, when (defensive coordinator Dave) Huxtable and Coach (Paul) Chryst stepped in here, we trusted this defense,” Taglianetti said. “We know it can work.”
Entering this week's bye, Pitt has yielded 451 total yards in its past two games while allowing no sustained scoring drives. The Panthers have surrendered three touchdowns in that span: punt and fumble returns and an 85-yard pass-and-run.
“Good things happen when you are where you are supposed to be, doing your job,” Huxtable said.
Huxtable made a few personnel changes, using Bryan Murphy and Devin Cook at one end position and inserting fifth-year senior Manny Williams at outside linebacker. Meanwhile, the team withstood the loss of tackle Aaron Donald (knee), thanks to freshman Darryl Render stepping in last weekend against Gardner-Webb and recording 1 1⁄2 tackles for a loss.
Even with the new faces — none of whom played last season — on-field communication improved.
“It's not that we weren't communicating the first couple games, but everyone was really paying attention to what was going on (in the past two),” Taglianetti said. “You could see we played fast, we played smart, and we were always in the right position.”
Taglianetti, a fifth-year senior, has witnessed much of the defensive rebirth from the bench. Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks moved into starting lineup after the opener and have recorded all four of Pitt's interceptions (three by Hendricks). Taglianetti is part of the passing-down defense, replacing freshman Jahmahl Pardner (knee).
“It's no biggie,” Taglianetti said of his reserve role. “Coming into camp, I knew there were going to be two safeties who weren't going to play that much.
“Do I wish I was out there? Yeah, but it's nothing I'm going to dwell on. I am still going to try to (excel) on special teams.”
And perhaps make history.
Taglianetti holds the Pitt record for punt blocks (six), four short of the national mark set by Central Michigan's James King (2001-04).
“I try to be quiet about it,” he said, smiling, “and I subtly try to tell coach (Chris) Haering, who does our punt blocks, to really go after it.”
Taglianetti was close against Gardner-Webb but held back to avoid a roughing penalty. In the BBVA Compass Bowl last season, SMU punter Matt Stone kicked him in the head and then flopped, drawing a penalty on Taglianetti.
“I'm starting to sniff the ball,” he said, “so it's coming.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.