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Chryst says Pitt must improve turnover ratio, get more pressure on QBs

| Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 7:12 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin makes a first-quarter catch over Pitt's Anthony Gonzalez on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Before he boarded an airplane Friday for Durham, N.C., and his team's first road game, Pitt coach Paul Chryst fielded repeated questions from reporters about what ails his team.

Here are a few of the points:

• No interceptions. Pitt is one of only 13 FBS teams without one.

• Four interceptions thrown, all on first or second down.

• A negative-2.5 turnover ratio per game, 120th in the nation.

• Linebackers with only one sack.

“All these concerns,” Chryst said, laughing. “(If I was really worried), I wouldn't get any sleep. It's obviously a concern of you guys.”

Actually, Chryst appeared to be in a good mood all week while preparing Pitt (1-1, 0-1) to meet Duke (1-2, 0-1) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Wallace Wade Field. It will be the Panthers' first ACC game away from home.

Since the first day of training camp in August, Chryst has emphasized that the team is coachable and focused. He doesn't expect the first road game to be a problem for what he believes is a mature team.

“I'm looking forward to that phase of our team growing,” he said.

By the time Chryst met with the media, he and his coaches had addressed every problem. He didn't list the issues in order of importance, but he seems especially disturbed with quarterback Tom Savage's four interceptions and freshman running back James Conner's fumble. Three of those plays occurred on first down, and Conner's second-down run against New Mexico was long enough to move the sticks before he lost the football.

“We have tried to emphasize it,” Chryst said. “The four picks we've had, all different reasons. The results are the same. We have to be better than that.”

He is working with Savage on making better decisions, but he doesn't plan to discourage his quarterback from throwing downfield.

Meanwhile, he has mentioned to Conner to hold the ball high and tight, but he said fumbles were not a problem for him at Erie McDowell.

On defense, the lack of turnovers (one fumble recovery) stands out when matched against the Pitt's six giveaways, including one on special teams.

“I think it is a concern,” Chryst conceded. “There are a lot of stats you can tweak, but (turnover ratio) kind of stands the test of time. How you do in the turnover ratio has a direct impact. We are not doing a great job protecting the ball.

“It makes it a lot harder to win when you are doing those things.”

If defensive tackle Aaron Donald continues to be disruptive, the turnovers may not be far behind. Donald is in an eight-way tie for the national lead in sacks (third) and is third in tackles for loss per game (2.5). Overall, Pitt is fifth in the nation in TFLs (9.5).

Donald said he can do better. “I missed too many plays.”

Pitt has only two other sacks: defensive end Bryan Murphy and backup linebacker Nicholas Grigsby.

“The only way (linebackers) are going to get them is if we are pressuring,” Chyrst said. “Some teams you will blitz more than others. Obviously, we didn't get a ton of pressure on Florida State, and New Mexico wasn't really a throwing team.”

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

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