Pitt notebook: Panthers looking to future?

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, 5:24 p.m.

Look closely, and you will get a sense of where the Pitt football team is headed, not just for the rest of this year but for seasons to come.

The latest loss — 21-10 to Georgia Tech — leaves the Panthers in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2007.

Pitt has lost three of four games since opening 3-1. At 4-4, 2-3 in the ACC, the Panthers must win two of their final four, starting with Notre Dame (7-2) on Saturday night at Heinz Field.

While the losses are coming in bunches, coach Paul Chryst is starting to play younger personnel.

Some of it is because of injury. Some of it is because there is more to gain for the future than there is to lose in the present. Consider:

• Senior middle linebacker Shane Gordon has been injured and hasn't started three of the past five games, providing freshman Matt Galambos and sophomore Nicholas Grigsby increased opportunities. Galambos responded with a fumble recovery against Georgia Tech, and Grigsby had six tackles.

• Senior defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell played fewer snaps than sophomore Darryl Render, who displaced him in the starting lineup and recorded seven tackles. Render's fumble recovery in the third quarter could have been a big play had the offense taken advantage.

“He's been practicing well the last couple weeks,” Chryst said of Render. “He's earned the right to get some snaps.”

• Freshman offensive tackle Dorian Johnson struggled against Georgia Tech, but he is an important part of the line's future with tackle Adam Bisnowaty and centers Artie Rowell and Gabe Roberts. And that's not counting four freshmen who aren't playing this year and a 2014 class that includes Mike Grimm (6-foot-6, 328 pounds) of Bethel Park.

There will be a job open next season when senior left guard Cory King moves on. Johnson could change positions and fill it.

He should know

Quarterback Tom Savage gave Johnson, who made his first career start, interesting advice before the game.

“I just told him, ‘Go out there and play hard. Who cares? If you let one go, I'll get up. It doesn't matter,' ” Savage said.

Savage played as a freshman at Rutgers, so he understands how difficult and unnerving it can be.

“I was in the bathroom when coach (Greg) Schiano told me I was going in,” he said. “I said, ‘I'm not going in. You're going in.' I know that feeling.”

Opportunities lost

Pitt's defense recovered two fumbles, but the offense didn't get a first down either time. Savage completed 3 of 5 passes for 2 yards, and Isaac Bennett had a 4-yard run.

In the fourth quarter, Pitt moved to Georgia Tech's 47-, 36- and 19-yard lines but ended up punting twice and throwing an interception.

“I thought we were rolling a little bit,” Savage said. “We just have to seize those opportunities. Put it on me.”

Quick hits

Punter Matt Yoklic recovered from his 20-yard punt late in the Navy game to average 44.3 yards, his best performance in nearly a month. ... Devin Street's 45 yards receiving marked his smallest production this season. ... Savage had a streak of 118 passes without an interception broken on his last attempt of the game. ... Cornerback K'Waun Williams suffered a biceps injury in the fourth quarter. ... Notre Dame linebacker Ben Councell is out for the season with a left knee injury.

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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