Pitt defense seeks shot at redemption in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

Pitt's Aaron Donald plays against Florida State on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 at Heinz Field.
Pitt's Aaron Donald plays against Florida State on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 at Heinz Field.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, 9:36 p.m.

Despite all the accolades, bright lights and cameras Aaron Donald encountered on his award-winning tour, one annoying thought kept gnawing at the back of his mind:It stemmed from Pitt's 41-31 loss to Miami in the last regular-season game Nov. 29.

The defense allowed the same amount of points it surrendered in the opener against Florida State, a team that advanced to the national championship game.

Miami is good, but far from the Seminoles' caliber, and the poor performance could be seen as an indication of a lack of progress on Pitt's defense this season.

“I feel like we got embarrassed out there,” Donald said of an effort in which Pitt (6-6) allowed five touchdowns and 476 yards of total offense in its 12th game.

Pitt's next and final stop — the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26 against MAC champion Bowling Green — could be an avenue that leads to redemption and the school's first winning season since 2010.

Defensive coordinator Matt House has seen signs that the results could be different when they line up at Ford Field.

“We didn't play up to our expectations in the Miami game,” House said. “You can tell guys truly were disappointed and irritated with themselves. You have seen the tempo in our practice now be cranked up. Part of that is we had set a bar and expectation. Throughout the year, we improved, improved, improved, that last game being an aberration. I think it truly ticked the kids off.”

The Miami game was the second in three weeks in which Pitt fell into a hole too deep to escape. Miami led 31-10 at halftime two weeks after North Carolina grabbed a 27-3 early in the second half against the Panthers.

“A lot of little mistakes piling up early,” said safety Ray Vinopal, repeating a theme from most of Pitt's losses this season. “It's always hard, especially against a talented team that is coached well, to recover from such a deficit so early.

“When they grab the momentum so quickly, you really have to dig down deep and get it going. I think we did get it going, but it was too late.”

Notes: Chryst said senior wide receiver Devin Street is “getting better.” Street missed most of the past two games with foot and elbow injuries. ... Pitt leaves for Detroit on Monday when the players will engage Bowling Green in a bowling match. After practice Thursday, the team was scheduled for a laser tag outing.

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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