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Pitt football seeks growth spurt against Virginia

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - PItt center Artie Rowell approaches the ball during practice Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, on the South Side.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>PItt center Artie Rowell approaches the ball during practice Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, on the South Side.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt quarterback Tom Savage plays against New Mexico on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt quarterback Tom Savage plays against New Mexico on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at Heinz Field.

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Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 10:57 p.m.

Pitt looks for another growth spurt Saturday when it meets Virginia at Heinz Field, hoping to knock down another hurdle on the way to respectability — and beyond.

Coach Paul Chryst has had no trouble winning two games in a row, something he has done four times, including his current streak, since assuming stewardship of the program nearly two years ago.

The problem is he also has four two-game losing streaks. Pitt hasn't won three in a row since the 2010 season, former coach Dave Wannstedt's last.

Since opening the season against No. 8 Florida State, Pitt (2-1, 1-1 ACC) has beaten New Mexico and Duke, but Virginia (2-1, 0-0) looks to be the best of the three teams.

“Each week we are seeing bigger and faster and better players,” sophomore center Artie Rowell said. “It's a progression in personnel.”

The game is the first of a two-game stretch — Pitt visits Virginia Tech on Oct. 12 after taking off next week — that promises to test the Panthers' readiness to compete in the ACC.

It was impressive scoring 58 points in a win at Duke, but giving up 55 exposed flaws in the defense. And the third-down failures in the fourth quarter offered what Chryst likes to call teaching moments in the film room.

“You're fighting to be that consistent team,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said.

Meanwhile, Virginia's defense is among the best in the ACC, and its line of 6-foot-7, 295-pound tackle Brent Urban and 6-4 ends Jake Snyder and Eli Harold won't be easy to solve.

Offensive line coach Jim Hueber is eager to see how his players react.

“We are doing some better things,” he said. “We have a long way to go.”

There has been much talk in the past two weeks of how the line has paved the way for 100-yard runners (James Conner and Isaac Bennett), 100-yard receivers (Devin Street and Tyler Boyd) and a quarterback (Tom Savage) who is leading the ACC with 287 passing yards per game.

But Hueber is a difficult man to please.

“I don't think it's ever been perfect,” he said. “I remember they told me (in one of his previous coaching jobs) some guy had 70 pancakes (blocks). I couldn't find 10 when I tracked them down on video.

“They know this: I'm going to tell the truth.”

Note: A new photography exhibit highlighting key moments and athletes from Pitt's 124 years of football is open through Jan. 17 on the ground floor at Hillman Library in Oakland.

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

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