Pitt notebook: Kicker regains confidence
AMHERST, N.Y. — Pitt kicker Kevin Harper knew better than to expect support from his critics.
After all, he had missed five of his first 11 field goal attempts, and he could hear what people were saying.
So, he turned to someone he could count on — himself.
“When your statistics aren't good and people are getting on you, you have to get that confidence from within,” he said after kicking two field goals Saturday in tricky conditions during Pitt's 20-6 victory over Buffalo. “I think that's true of our team as well.”
The day started poorly for Harper when he walked onto the field at UB Stadium and noticed the wind blowing in multiple directions.
The next thing he knew, Pitt coach Paul Chryst was asking him to kick a 45-yard field goal. He nailed it midway through the first quarter for the game's first points.
He stayed calm by reminding himself that nothing has changed about his job since he first started booting a football a decade ago.
“You go through your mind that it's still the same size goal posts, the same ball,” he said. “Everything you have been doing since you were young.”
In the end, Harper's two field goals — he also hit from 22 later in the quarter — gave Pitt a cushion the Panthers might have needed if the defense had faltered at the end of the game.
Taking a hit
When Rushel Shell scored a touchdown on a 4-yard run in the second quarter, he said he took a shot to the stomach and had the wind knocked out of him while running into the middle of the Buffalo defense.
That's when he reversed his field and focused on nothing but the pylon in the near corner of the end zone.
Coaches juggled the linebacker group, with fifth-year senior Manny Williams out with an ACL injury in his knee and Shane Gordon also unavailable with a high ankle sprain.
Williams, a Clairton graduate, was replaced on the weakside by Beaver Falls' Todd Thomas, who made his first start since the Syracuse game Dec. 3, 2011. He shared team honors with 11 tackles.
Gordon's injury allowed middle linebacker Dan Mason of Penn Hills to make his first start since Sept. 11, 2010. He tore up his knee two weeks later against Miami.
Mason recorded a sack and matched a career high with 11 tackles, including a big one on fourth down at the end of the game to keep Buffalo out of the end zone.
Eric Williams was the only linebacker in an accustomed spot, making his sixth start on the strongside.
Also not among Pitt's traveling party were fullback Mark Giubilato (stinger), tight end Hubie Graham (ankle) and long snapper Kevin Barthelemy (hand). Freshman tight end J.P. Holtz of Shaler made his fourth start of the season. Bethel Park's Adam Lazenga replaced Giubilato.
By the numbers
Senior wide receiver Mike Shanahan recorded two catches for 39 yards and tied Jon Baldwin for eighth place on Pitt's all-time receptions list with 128.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7997.