Big bodies attacking him two at a time have turned Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald into a defiant young man.
With hopes for a winning season wilting and critics sharpening their verbal arrows, Donald said the only way for Pitt to recover from its 2-4 start is to do it as a team.
“There are going to be people talking down, trying to always say something (bad) about us as a team,” he said, “but we just have to stick together.”
Donald was short on specifics, but he wouldn't be far off by suggesting the following:
• Eliminate mistakes with better focus from offense, defense and special teams.
• Force the opponent into errors by generating pressure with an improved pass rush that could lead to turnovers.
• Achieve more consistent play on the offensive line to keep the attack multidimensional.
Pitt has reached the midway point in the season with only two victories for just the third time in the past 11 years, and the schedule gets no easier the rest of the way. Pitt played two teams in the first half that are undefeated (Cincinnati and Louisville), and there are two more to come (Notre Dame and Rutgers).
The Panthers continue to be plagued by errors that appear correctable but resurfaced during the current two-game losing streak.
“Mental mistakes, communication,” Donald said. “Stuff that can be fixed.”
Giving up 45 points to a good — but not a great — Louisville team can't be tolerated. The defense must get better, a task made more difficult with linebackers Shane Gordon and Manny Williams hobbled by leg injuries. The return of outside linebacker Todd Thomas from a knee injury may help improve a defense that has recorded only one turnover in its four losses. Sacking the quarterback at a better rate than 1.6 per game also wouldn't hurt.
Also, Pitt can't afford ill-timed penalties, especially those nagging false starts (11 in six games). Rutgers, the No. 15 team in the BCS standings, is last in the Big East with 436 yards in penalties, but it is talented enough to compensate in other areas. Pitt (354) has no such luxury and needs clean execution and sharper decision-making from players and coaches.
Donald, whose reputation has drawn double-team blocking that has reduced his effectiveness, said it's time for Pitt to take control.
“We can't change those four losses,” he said, “but we can change those two wins to three, four, five.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.
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