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Pitt football coach Chryst questions effort

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 2:44 p.m.
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst on the sideline during the Louisville game at Heinz Field Oct. 2012.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst on the sideline during the Louisville game at Heinz Field Oct. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Pitt coach Paul Chryst's patience reached a breaking point Monday, as he questioned his players' effort in their 24-17 loss to Connecticut.

“I thought we did have a couple (of moments) where it was less than the effort that you would want,” he said after Pitt dropped two in a row for the third time this season.

“You have to address that and move on, hold guys accountable and hold coaches accountable. How you address it is you have to hit it square in the face.”

Pitt (4-6, 1-4 Big East) is in jeopardy of a second consecutive losing season since Dave Wannstedt was fired at the end of the 2010 season. The Panthers play Big East leader Rutgers (8-1) on Nov. 24 at Heinz Field and close the season Dec. 1 at South Florida (3-6).

Pitt has been to a bowl game each of the past four seasons but must win both remaining games to become bowl eligible.

The loss to Connecticut (4-6, 1-4) was especially troubling because the Panthers fell behind, 24-0, in the first half only six days after nearly upsetting undefeated Notre Dame on the road. Connecticut entered the game ranked 117th in point production among 120 FBS schools, but the Huskies scored on four of their first six possessions, including a game-opening 75-yard drive and an 80-yard punt return by Nick Williams.

“I thought there was some (lack of effort), and that was disappointing,” Chryst said. “You shouldn't have to be coaching effort at any point, certainly (not) late in the year. Yet there were other guys giving tremendous effort and have all year.”

Chryst added that coaches must shoulder part of the blame, but his message to the players was clear.

“(Players) have to understand that's not how you play the game,” he said.

The loss to Connecticut was the third this season in which the Panthers lost by a margin that could have been altered by one possession (eight points or less). In the past three seasons, Pitt has lost 10 of 13 such games.

“It hurts to keep losing,” senior running back Ray Graham said.

Chryst said the team needs to learn how to win.

“A play here, a play there does make a difference,” he said, “but you have to learn to make those plays. What makes it tough is I feel like at times we are learning from those things, and sometimes we need to go through it again to learn.

“People talk about learning how to win. We haven't done that enough in close games.”

Saturday's loss was especially troubling because it was the second time in two trips to Connecticut that Pitt lost a close game. Two years ago, UConn robbed Pitt of a possible Big East title in a 30-28 outcome decided, in part, by a kickoff return for a touchdown by Williams.

Several close losses since 2010 have prevented Pitt from setting a positive tone that would have increased the program's visibililty and respect around the country — and maybe saved Wannstedt's job.

Included in that are three losses to Notre Dame and one to Utah on the road in the 2010 opener, quarterback Tino Sunseri's first of 36 consecutive starts.

In the past three seasons, Pitt never has rallied to win a close game, although the Panthers broke a 10-10 tie against South Florida in 2010 when Dion Lewis scored on a 22-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Sunseri helped preserve the 17-10 victory with two scrambles for 11 and 18 yards and a big third-down completion to Devin Street.

Otherwise, it's been mostly failure.

The latest in Connecticut hurt more than most after the Huskies' struggling offensive line escorted running back Lyle McCombs to 120 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Pitt's offense couldn't solve the Huskies' defense six days after Graham ran for 172 yards against Notre Dame.

“Any given Saturday, you have to come ready to play, and if you're not ready to play, you lose,” Graham said. “If you take a team light, you will be in for a rude awakening.”

Notes: Pitt's game against Rutgers will begin at noon and be televised by ESPN2 or ESPNU. ... Chryst said safety Jason Hendricks and tight end Hubie Graham, who were injured against Connecticut, will be limited in practice this week.

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