Defensive backs providing hope for Pitt football team's future
Progress for Pitt has been slow and inconsistent, but certain moments in the triple-overtime loss at Notre Dame suggest the team can lean on its pass defense in the final weeks of the season.
As soon as they eliminate the opponent's big plays.
For example: Pitt junior cornerback K'Waun Williams intercepted a pass in the end zone that looked like the decisive play in an upset of one of the nation's top teams. It didn't turn out that way.
In the Irish's first play after forcing Pitt to punt, free safety Jason Hendricks allowed a 45-yard reception by wide receiver Davaris Daniels that set up the tying points in the fourth quarter.
Further, Pitt is third in the Big East in pass defense, but when it faced the best teams on the schedule — Louisville and Notre Dame — it allowed a total of 595 passing yards and three touchdowns.
But Williams, a two-year starter, used his head and physical gifts in executing two big plays that helped Pitt maintain its lead until the final 2:11 of the fourth quarter.
In the second quarter, he was beaten in the end zone by tight end Tyler Eifert but intentionally grabbed him to prevent the touchdown.
“I thought that was a great job of a kid being in the moment,” coach Paul Chryst said.
“That was deliberate,” Williams said. “It worked out. We had a three-and-out, and we lived to fight another day.”
Then, in the fourth quarter, with Notre Dame threatening to score, Williams baited Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson with a head fake, making him think he was headed to the corner.
“I guess he thought he had space to throw behind me,” Williams said. “I just hung back and caught it.”
Williams is one of three starters who will return to the secondary next season.
That includes redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts, who is tied for fifth in the Big East with seven pass breakups in his first season as a starter. Also coming back are Hendricks, a junior who leads the conference in interceptions (four), and backup safety Ray Vinopal, who has been used in specialty defenses and as a blitzer (1 1⁄2 sacks).
Only strong safety Jarred Holley, second on the team in tackles with 58, and backup Andrew Taglianetti will be gone next season.
Overall, Pitt will have 15 defensive players who started at least one game eligible to return next season.
And if there is one element Pitt needs more than anything these days, it's continuity.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.