No personnel changes for Pitt's defense
By Jerry DiPaola
Published: Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 11:03 p.m.
Pitt coach Paul Chryst has been involved in football long enough to know that sometimes your team just isn't good enough.
Sometimes, the opponent has bigger, faster, more experienced players and no matter how hard you try or how many hours of video you study, physical ability eventually trumps everything.
Chryst didn't say so, of course, but Pitt's 41-13 loss to 10th-ranked Florida State fits into that category.
Yet, Chryst left Heinz Field bothered by how easily FSU scored at least three of its five touchdowns and how they could have been avoided.
When asked if play-action fakes by redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston allowed tight end Nick O'Leary to trot largely untouched into the Pitt secondary for 24-, 2- and 10-yard touchdowns, Chryst lowered his voice. Clearly, he was unhappy with the fact that his players were fooled.
“It was too easy,” he said.
The most discouraging aspect of the game was that Pitt's defense had seven players who started at least eight games last season and only one of Winston's 27 passes hit the ground. His passer rating of 252.2 led the nation after the first week.
“I didn't think it would be quite like that,” Chryst said, “but if you pinned it all on the secondary, it wouldn't be right. There were times we got pressure on (Winston), but there were times he was pretty comfortable.”
Chryst and defensive coordinator Matt House said no personnel changes are planned for Saturday's game against New Mexico at Heinz Field. But they will continue using several players.
A total of 16 reserves played either on scrimmage plays or special teams, a record number for the defense in 14 games under second-year coach Chryst, House said.
“If we are going to be good, there will be strength in numbers at the end of it all,” Chryst said.
Yet, Pitt appeared to miss the athleticism of linebacker Todd Thomas and the experienced depth former safety Eric Williams may have provided.
Thomas, a 13-game starter the past two seasons, played sparingly while trying to win back the coaches' favor. Thomas left the team Aug. 7 and immediately said he wanted to return, but Chryst waited a week to reinstate him.
“He is just like everybody else,” House said. “He has to earn the right to play.”
Said Chryst, without promising anything: “He's in the mix, clearly.”
Williams was dismissed after a drug arrest in April and plays at Indiana (Pa.). Thomas and Williams were fourth and fifth in total tackles last season.
House said coaches and players share blame for the ease in which Florida State dismantled the Pitt defense.
“From front to back, we have to execute and be more relentless, including the coaches,” said House, a first-time coordinator.
“We could have challenged some different things in different ways and, moving forward, we are going to make some different adjustments.”
The biggest problem was Pitt's inability to stop Florida State on third down. The Seminoles converted seven of 11. In the second quarter, Winston responded to a third-and-17 with a 20-yard completion to wide receiver Rashad Greene.
House said: “I can make a better call and we have to execute better.
“Certainly, when you don't play well, you have to take a look at yourself, along with everything else. But it's no time to panic after game one, either.”
Throughout the game, there appeared to be wide gulfs between defenders and pass catchers. Senior cornerback K'Waun Williams said that was part of the game plan.
“We could have played tighter in certain situations,” he said.
House said the plan called for off and press coverage.
“There were certain times in the game that we thought, well, we are going to play off and rally up and tackle the throw,” he said. “And there were other times where we are going to be in press and get up in their face.”
Neither strategy worked well. Williams said the problems mainly stemmed from lapses in fundamentals and misreading keys.
And don't forget that FSU's gifted pass catchers had their say, too.
“We missed way too many tackles,” Williams said.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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