Chryst's challenge: Keeping players focused on Temple
Pitt coach Paul Chryst has no plans to motivate his players with hopes of a bowl game or winning season.
Both require much more than a victory against Temple on Saturday at Heinz Field.
Besides, Chryst is partial to players who push themselves to greater heights no matter the reward.
“If you don't have self-motivation, it's a hard road,” he said.
The aim in Pitt's eighth game of the season is simple: Get a second victory against a team from a BCS conference — the only other occurred Sept. 15 against Virginia Tech — and defeat a Big East opponent for the first time.
The key will be Pitt finding a way to stop Temple's running game.
“That's certainly going to be a big factor,” Chryst said.
Temple (3-3, 2-1) is second in the Big East in rushing, averaging 167.2 yards per game. But the Owls are last in passing, with only 19.6 attempts per game and 122.3 yards through the air. If Pitt can stop Temple's running game, it has a good chance to put the brakes on the entire offense.
But run defense has proven difficult for Pitt, which allows 142.7 rushing yards per game. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the only player among the four starting linemen who has made a significant impact this season.
Temple is one of the more physical and aggressive teams on Pitt's schedule, both in terms of a ground game and pass rush (17 sacks, third in the conference).
“You know what? I like watching Temple,” Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “I think they play physical. You can tell it's being coached.”
Although Chryst is trying to keep his players focused on Temple, the big picture says Pitt needs to win to keep alive its slim bowl hopes. To get the necessary six victories, the Panthers (3-4, 0-3) must defeat each of the lesser teams on the remaining schedule (Temple, Connecticut and South Florida) unless they can upset Notre Dame next week or Rutgers on Nov. 24.
For now, Chryst will ignore such thoughts.
“I think a lot about the task at hand, the day at hand,” he said. “All that stuff really just clouds your vision. We can truly focus on this week, and that's more than enough to focus on.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.