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Panthers eye what future holds as they apply lessons learned

| Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 10:50 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Manasseh Garner picks up a first down as Florida State's Karlos Williams defends during the first quarter Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Two consecutive losing seasons, two blowout losses in the same minor bowl game and a nationally televised thumping by Florida State have taught Pitt football players an important lesson.

Pay no attention to the past.

That's the theme Pitt will carry forward when it returns to Heinz Field at 12:30 p.m. Saturday to play its first nonconference game of the season against New Mexico (1-1).

“Coaches stress it's a new beginning, a new team,” said tight end Manasseh Garner, who scored his team's only touchdown Sept. 2 in a 41-13 ACC loss to No. 10 Florida State.

Garner, a Brashear graduate who transferred from Wisconsin, is one of several first-year Pitt players who weren't around for the past two seasons of mediocrity.

“We make our own destiny,” he said. “It starts now.”

From the outset of spring drills, coach Paul Chryst has been dipping liberally into the two-deep depth chart in hopes of finding better players, especially on defense. After all, Florida State averaged 8.5 yards per play against Pitt's veterans.

“We have to tackle better, challenge receivers and finish our (pass-rush) pressures,” said Chryst, who used 11 freshmen and seven redshirt freshmen. “It's our job, my job to make sure we learn from the Florida State game. You enjoy that part of it, the growing part.”

A four-touchdown loss underscores problems on both sides of the football, and Chryst knows the ground game also needs work.

Running backs Isaac Bennett and James Conner totaled 69 yards on only 18 carries. The results were difficult down-and-distance situations and only two of eight third-down conversions.

“We weren't very good on first down,” Chryst said. “If you can stay ahead of the chains, that helps. We were bad on third down. If you convert more than 25 percent of your third downs, you get more kicks at the can.”

Junior guard Matt Rotheram said an offensive line that has three first-year starters has more potential than he has seen in his four seasons at Pitt. He said it was hidden by the bright lights of a highly anticipated ACC debut.

“In our first game, some guys weren't used to the crowd, not used to the atmosphere,” he said. “(The action) seems faster in the game than in actual practice. That's tough for young guys.

“It's good to play good competition right off the bat. Guys make their first start. This is what they know, what they have to expect now and they move on from there.”

The danger is experiencing a letdown against New Mexico of the Mountain West Conference after playing the Seminoles, one of the best teams in the nation.

“We don't want Florida State to beat us twice,” Rotheram said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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