Strong safety Paris Ford ‘juices’ up Pitt secondary | TribLIVE.com
Pitt

Strong safety Paris Ford ‘juices’ up Pitt secondary

Jerry DiPaola
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt’s Paris Ford gets in on a sack of Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins in the season opener.

When Virginia wide receiver Hasise Dubois caught a short flip from quarterback Bryce Perkins late in the third quarter against Pitt, he appeared to have enough for an important first down.

But when Dubois turned upfield looking for more yardage, Paris Ford was waiting for him. Ford punched the football from Dubois’ arms, and it squirted backward 2 yards and out of bounds. Virginia was forced to punt.

But if the ball bounced in another direction, Pitt might have recovered the fumble and gained possession on the Virginia 40-yard line with an opportunity to reduce a nine-point deficit.

Nice play by the strong safety from Steel Valley?

It sure looked that way. But Ford, recalling the moment, acted like it never happened.

“I didn’t recover it, so I’m not counting it,” he said.

The hit on Dubois was one of six tackles by Ford on Saturday night — second only to free safety Damar Hamlin’s seven — in what was a good effort by the Pitt secondary — just not a winning one.

Later, cornerback Damarri Mathis broke up two passes in a row, forcing another punt.

Overall, Pitt allowed only 181 yards through the air, third-fewest by an ACC team in its opener. Only Clemson and North Carolina gave up fewer yards.

“I don’t care what we do,” secondary coach Archie Collins said. “I always think there’s room for improvement. At the same time, I thought guys played well together. A lot of guys communicated. Everybody played well with each other. That was good to see, really.”

Ford, one of 10 first-time starters for Pitt, played a big part in keeping Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins in check. Ford’s stature (6-foot, 190 pounds) might be considered small for a player with run-stopping duties, but he said physicality is his game.

“I like to be physical,” he said. “Tackling never was a problem.”

Collins doesn’t even notice Ford’s size.

“I think he’s a big guy, because his heart’s so big,” Collins said. “He’s got a lot of energy, a lot of juice. Once he gets going, the whole defense gets going. A lot of things revolve around him and his energy. So I say he’s a big guy.”

Ford wasn’t on the field for every snap, but Collins said his opportunities might increase.

“He’s going to get better and better as the weeks go on,” he said. “The sky’s the limit for him, based on all the rep counts he gets, the more experience he gets and how he fits in that piece of the puzzle.”

Collins also was impressed by Mathis’ tight coverage.

“Anytime you get your hands on the ball, that’s the name of the game for the secondary,” he said. “He was very good in his technique, fundamentals. He made some plays on the ball. He had good reaction skills. He showed he knew what they were trying to do.”

The next challenge will be making plays on the ball without the pass interference penalties. Pitt had three of them Saturday, two by cornerback Dane Jackson.

“Dane, to me, was in perfect position to make a play, and the ref threw the flag too quick, I guess,” Ford said.

Ford is finished looking behind him, although he said, “No one is taking the loss well.”

“We’ll rebound, for sure. We play with a lot of juice, a lot of energy, which you guys saw flashes of, but you guys haven’t seen nothing yet. Trust me.”

His players’ confidence is shared by Collins, who doesn’t even mind the occasional turnover by the Pitt offense.

“We love sudden change because it gives us another opportunity to get out there on the field again,” he said. “That’s how we look at it.

“We want to hold them to field goals (when faced with a short field to defend). To be a great defense, that’s what we have to do, and that’s what we will do in the future.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Pitt
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