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Pitt looking to string together wins in season's final month

AP - Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is sacked for a loss by Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu in the second half Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in Atlanta.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is sacked for a loss by Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu in the second half Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in Atlanta.
Getty Images - ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 02: Aaron Donald #97 of the Pittsburgh Panthers sacks Vad Lee #2 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on November 2, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 02:  Aaron Donald #97 of the Pittsburgh Panthers sacks Vad Lee #2 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on November 2, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Imagine the excitement Saturday night on the North Shore if Pitt can upset Notre Dame.

Many of the 60,000 fans at Heinz Field might celebrate all night, carrying the party into the morning.

Who knows what a victory against the Irish, ranked No. 23 in the BCS standings, would mean to the 60 or so college prospects who plan to attend the game as Pitt's guests?

Coach Paul Chryst and his staff would shake hands with each other, exhale a sigh of relief and immediately immerse themselves in the rest of the season.

But one victory — no matter the opponent — would be a shallow triumph for the Panthers (4-4) if it is followed by flat effort next Saturday against North Carolina.

Pitt has reduced significantly its margin for error after losing its past two games, and that's not merely because the team needs two victories in its final four games to become bowl eligible.

The Panthers (6-7 last year) must win three of their final four to show improvement in Chryst's second season — something more important than a bowl appearance.

Signature victory? Defensive coordinator Matt House scoffs at the notion.

“Every week is an opportunity to get a signature win,” he said. “If you are truly trying to build a championship program and trying to preach consistency to the kids, then you can't have the ups and downs and saying this game is bigger than the next game. Every game's got to be a signature win.”

Pitt has good news for the stretch run.

All five first-string offensive linemen will be together for the first time in a month, with senior left guard Cory King and left tackle Adam Bisnowaty returning from back injuries. With freshman running back James Conner recovered from a shoulder injury, the time has come for Pitt to restart its ground game.

The Panthers ran well against the Irish last season, but running back Ray Graham is gone after totaling 172 yards in that game. Conner and Isaac Bennett have hit triple digits four times this season but only once in the past five games, and that was Bennett's 240 yards against undermanned Old Dominion.

Chryst said he hopes to get the running game in motion.

“From what we've done recently, we haven't been real good running the football,” he said.

“Hopefully we can get that squared away. We are a better team if we can do a better job of running the football.”

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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