BY WILL GRAVES
Pitt’s inaugural season in the ACC is all of a week old and already the 41-13 thumping at the hands of Florida State appears to be a distant memory.
“It seems like it’s a long time ago,” coach Paul Chryst said. “I think part of that’s because as a team we’ve got to turn the page.”
The lengthy layoff after the Seminoles provided a reality check after months of anticipation allowed Chryst and his players to regroup and realize that as lopsided as the score appeared, there were some positives to build on heading into Saturday’s game against New Mexico.
Nearly a dozen true freshmen played, including wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Quarterback Tom Savage hung in there despite being battered in his first live game action in nearly three years. And as ugly as it appeared late, the game was competitive for lengthy stretches.
Chryst and his staff spent the down time reminding their players that for all the emotion spent in front of a sold out Heinz Field on national television against the class of the ACC, it only accounted for one loss. Eleven more chances for the Panthers to prove themselves remain.
“We don’t want to let Florida State beat us twice,” offensive lineman Matt Rotherman said. “So, in the bye week, we got back to the basics, kind of like camp-mode again. And we can concentrate on New Mexico now.”
And get into a bit of a normal routine. Pitt spent nearly 24 months dealing with the buildup to its first game in the ACC. That cloud is now gone. It’s back to football for a team that would like to build some confidence heading into a stretch of three straight conference games looming.
“That was a big stage last week, so it was good for all the guys to experience that,” tight end Manasseh Garner said. “But we had some guys who never played a game like that before and some other guys, like myself, who hadn’t played a game like that in a while. So, now that we got it out of the way, we have to treat this week’s game like any other game on our schedule.”
Chryst praised the Panthers for their resilience. There appeared to be no discernible letdown in practice. Pitt seemed to understand it was soundly beaten after the Seminoles provided a template for what it takes to rise to the top of the super-sized conference.
“Everyone owned that game,” Chryst said. “If you do that, then you have a chance to move forward and get better. We have specific things that each guy needs to work on.”
Like knocking down a pass or two. Though Pitt’s offense moved the ball at times, the defense served as little more than bystanders at the coming out party for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. All the freshman did was complete 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns while running for another.
Getting immediate results in the pass defense might be tough against the Lobos, who throw only when absolutely necessary. New Mexico uses an old-school option attack that serves as a throwback to a simpler time. That’s fine by Chryst, who figures keeping it simple will be a good way to get his team’s attention.
“At some point we’re still going to have to tackle,” Chryst said. “At some point we’re still going to be in a situation where we have to make a play.”
It would help start the healing after perhaps Pitt’s most anticipated opener since Dan Marino was wearing No. 13. The crowd won’t be nearly as electric on Saturday. That might not be a bad thing as the Panthers try to generate some energy of their own.
“With some guys out there, that was their first start,” Rotherman said. “They know what to expect now. So, we should take off from there.”