Pitt notebook: Injuries taking toll on Panthers
Pitt will limp into its final two games of the regular season with injuries to several key players. Some will be able to fight through the pain and miss only limited time. Others won't be as fortunate.
“We need everyone,” coach Paul Chryst said.
The offensive line appears to be hurting more than most units. Left guard Cory King missed his fifth consecutive game Saturday — a 34-27 loss to North Carolina at Heinz Field — and left tackle Adam Bisnowaty was out for the second time in three weeks. Both are dealing with back injuries, while King also has a hamstring issue.
Bisnowaty's replacement, Dorian Johnson, was pulled from the game — no explanation was given — for little-used senior Juantez Hollins, who has no starts since 2011. Senior Ryan Schlieper, who is playing for King, had to leave briefly Saturday with an injury, and he was replaced by junior Shane Johnson, who has no career starts.
With depth compromised, line coach Jim Hueber must find a way to reduce the sacks on quarterback Tom Savage. The Tar Heels sacked Savage seven times, the fourth game this season Pitt has allowed five or more sacks. Pitt quarterbacks have been sacked 138 times in the past three seasons (36 games).
Despite an injured knee, Savage led Pitt's rally from a 27-3 deficit to a 27-27 tie. He finished with his second-most passing yards (313) and no interceptions. Savage has thrown only one interception in the past six games while getting sacked 24 times.
Savage was getting treatment on his knee after the game and was unavailable for comment.
Chryst also will keep a close watch on receiver Devin Street (ankle), defensive backs Trenton Coles and Titus Howard (head injuries) and tight end Scott Orndoff (leg).
After victories by Maryland and Boston College on Saturday, eight of the 14 ACC teams are bowl eligible.
The ACC has ties to 10 bowls, including the national title game, where Florida State may end up, and the Orange Bowl, where No. 8 Clemson could go.
The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco is among those bowls, but it's conditional for the ACC if BYU and the Pac-12 can't fill the two slots. BYU (7-3) accepted a bid Oct. 26, and athletic director Tom Holmoe said he expects to play a Pac-12 team.
The Pitt/Syracuse winner might have to settle for a non-ACC bowl if North Carolina (5-5) beats Old Dominion or Duke. But that will depend on how many spots are open and will require negotiations by school and bowl officials.
North Carolina freshman punt returner Ryan Switzer used his head as well as his legs to elude Pitt's punt coverage team, especially on the decisive second touchdown.
“A couple of guys had an angle on me going toward the sidelines, so I stopped for a second and let them go past,” said the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Switzer. “I saw a cut-back lane to the right of the field and just tried to hit it.” Switzer totaled 126 yards on three returns, helping to drop Pitt to 119th in the nation in punt coverage (22 for 378 yards, 17.2 average). Only Florida State, California, Louisiana-Lafayette and Eastern Michigan are worse. California (five) and Pitt (three) are the only FBS schools that have allowed more than two punt return touchdowns.
“(Switzer) is just like Wes Welker,” Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams said.
Switzer grew up in Charleston, W.Va., and had about 50 family members and friends at the game Saturday.
In the past three games, tight ends Orndoff, Manasseh Garner, J.P. Holtz and Jaymar Parrish have caught 23 passes for 214 yards. ... Running back Rachid Ibrahim has not had a catch or a carry since a big 21-yard reception during a fourth-quarter rally against Navy on Oct. 26. ... Street remains third on Pitt's all-time receiving yards list with 2,894, 109 behind Dietrich Jells. Antonio Bryant is the all-time leader with 3,061.