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Pitt looks to keep momentum after upsetting Notre Dame

| Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, 10:15 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Tom Savage pitches to running back Isaac Bennett during the first quarter against Notre Dame Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's K'Waun Williams breaks up a third-quarter pass intended for Notre Dame's William Fuller on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, at Heinz Field.

There was no confetti to sweep off the Heinz Field playing surface or reports of excess celebrating among Pitt football players in the hours after the victory against Notre Dame.

Pitt is handling that small parcel of success the proper way, with the knowledge that its 5-4 record is mediocre, at best. What comes next will truly define the second season of the Paul Chryst era.

“Our backs are against the wall,” free safety Ray Vinopal said.

The stretch drive begins Saturday when North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) comes to town with a three-game winning streak. That those victories occurred against Boston College, N.C. State and Virginia (2-15 in the ACC) should be of no concern to Pitt.

Chryst's hope is that his players will cherish the memory of the Notre Dame victory but not immerse themselves in it.

Last year, they allowed the triple-overtime loss to the Irish to linger, and the result was poor effort against Connecticut.

“That will be a big message throughout the week,” Vinopal said. “You enjoy the victory after it happens, and then, you forget about it, just like you do a bad game. You can't expect last week's game to give us a victory this week.”

Chryst said he didn't notice a different attitude among players and coaches when they reported to work Sunday. There was no more carefree chatter than normal.

“Not really, and I kind of like it that way,” Chryst said. “It wasn't like the guys were skipping into the building and whistling ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.' ”

Center Artie Rowell admitted the Panthers do talk about what victories in the next three games (including Syracuse and Miami) would mean.

“Sure,” he said. “We need one more to get bowl eligible. If we win two more, we can go to a better bowl game. If we win three more, we can go to an even better bowl game.” Six ACC schools are bowl eligible, and they are expected to land the prime berths, led by No. 2 Florida State, which is in line to play Alabama for the national championship.

The ACC has ties or possible ties to 10 bowls, and there promises to be plenty of competition for those spots. Pitt is one of four conference teams that need to win only one more game to become bowl eligible, and North Carolina will enter the fray if it wins Saturday.

Chryst is aware that a thin line often separates success from failure. He fielded questions this week from reporters suggesting Pitt could have gone in the wrong direction after losing its two games prior to Notre Dame.

“Now, all of a sudden, we are going to beat the '85 Bears,” he said. “Two extremes right there, and we just have to stay in our world this week, every week.

“That's why we have to stay consistent. Notre Dame is a great program, right? But at the same time, guys invest a lot into (the entire) season.”

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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