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Despite win, Pitt still has its issues

| Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 7:57 p.m.
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Duke's Brandon Connette runs away from Pitt's David Durham during their game on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C.

Three games into his second season at Pitt, coach Paul Chryst recognizes there are problems with his team that not even scoring 58 points against Duke can solve.

“This team is fun to be around, but we have enough reason to keep practicing,” he said.

It starts with defense. Pitt is ranked last in the ACC in total (445 yards per game), passing (251) and scoring (41 points) defense and next-to-last against the run (194). Pitt is the only team in the conference to allow a score every time the opponent moves into the red zone (15 chances, 11 touchdowns, four field goals).

“Some of it is football,” Chryst said, acknowledging that Duke's offense made several plays that may have worked against many teams. “And, certainly, there is enough that we have to take ownership of and clean up.

“It starts with me, and it starts with coaching, and the players have to go do it. Obviously, you don't feel good giving up that many points.”

What might be most distressing is that Pitt's defense has not been as disciplined as Chryst might expect from a unit with eight returning starters.

“There were a couple (of big plays) where a guy sees a void in the defense and he tries to overcome that and, in return, he gets beat, and he's not doing his job,” Chryst said.

But even when a player was in the proper position, Duke gained good yardage.

“Clearly, we didn't tackle on some of those very well,” he said.

With the program in a state of transition on two fronts — entering a new conference while escaping the coaching instability that began in 2010 — Chryst may need to find more speed in his next few recruiting classes.

Duke's spread offense scored on plays of 82, 75 and 62 yards among its eight touchdowns. Was there a speed disparity between the teams?

“He was fast enough to run away from us,” Chryst said, alluding to Jameson Crowder scoring on a punt, run from scrimmage and pass reception.

“They have good players, and every team we are going to play is going to have good players. And they are going to be fast, and some will be big and fast. We just have to go play.

“We have to know who we are, play to our strengths.”

Chryst was reluctant to comment on the current state of the game, with 28 teams averaging 40 or more points through the first four weeks.

“I don't think I've done anything to deserve to be the spokesman for college football,” he said. “I do think that it's our job to make sure that whatever the game is, we are prepared to go win it.”

But, he conceded, “These aren't as shocking as maybe they would have been 10 years ago.”

Chryst didn't blame just the defense for nearly losing leads of 27-7 and 51-28. The offense scored seven touchdowns but was scoreless for the game's final 18:18 with no first downs in the fourth quarter until the its last possession.

“We're getting better, but I don't feel like, ‘Boy, we've arrived. We're going to be good,' ” he said. “I don't know that I ever felt that anyplace I've been,” he said.

“We have stuff we are building on, but a good offense finishes that game, period.”

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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