Pitt Football Notebook: Syracuse Week
By: Ryan Bertonaschi
Chryst, Pitt in position for mediocrity at best
Snow flurries are now making their weekly mark on South Oakland concrete, and Paul Chryst is two games from wrapping up his third year at Pitt’s helm.
And, for the third-consecutive season, Chryst’s Panthers (4-6, 2-4 ACC) are slated to finish their regular season below or at .500.
For a brief second during his weekly press conference Monday, Chryst reflected on the struggle he’s experienced to achieve success during those three years, which have featured some of Pitt football’s darkest days of the century.
“There’s not a lot of mystery to it,”Chryst said when asked to speak on the toughness involved in attaining instant gratification as a new coach. “It’s not an easy game, it takes a lot to win and play well, but it’s not complicated.”
Oftentimes, players and coaches who struggle to maintain progression will reach out to their peers from across the map for advice. Chryst said he only keeps in touch with a select few people during the season and that he is not seeking mentorships of any kind, but he did mention two college coaches that underwent sluggish starts to their coaching careers before entering a period of national prominence.
“You hope you’re doing things right so you end up like [Michigan State head] coach [Mark] Dantonio in different areas, and [former Wisconsin head coach] Barry [Alvarez] went through that at Wisconsin,” Chryst said.
During his first three seasons at West Virginia, Dana Holgorsen also compiled an overall record comparable to Chryst’s. Holgorsen’s Mountaineers are currently 6-4 and in a very good Big 12 conference.
“But that’s part of the journey,” Chryst added.
Pitt’s output this year has dimmed the season-long individual performance of running back James Conner, who has posted Heisman-type numbers.
“It is what it is,” Conner said of the imbalance. “[Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon] is up there getting mentioned with ‘New York’ and stuff, and my numbers are kind of similar, but I just try to leave it on the field, do what I can.”
Conner (1,562 yards) is third in the country in rushing yards behind Gordon (1,909 yards) and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (1,678 yards). He is also third in the country in carries (250) and touchdowns (21).
He scored a four touchdowns, including one with 4:32 remaining Saturday to give Pitt a one-point lead over North Carolina. Conner then took a seat on a sideline bench to watch Pitt’s defense allow the Tar Heels to march 75 yards in 13 plays en route to a game-winning touchdown.
Chryst said that the story of Conner is similar to the story of defensive tackle Aaron Donald in 2013.
“To me, that’s what has remarkable about Aaron last year,” Chryst said. “It was biased [on my part], but it was earned. He was head-and-shoulders.”
Donald led the nation in several defensive categories, but his team had little to show for it, compiling a 7-6 record.
Uncertain statuses for Garner, Bisnowaty
Pitt hosts Syracuse (3-7, 1-5 ACC) Saturday at 3:30.
Chryst remained mum about the fates of receiver Manasseh Garner and left tackle Adam Bisnowaty for the game. Garner did not travel to Pitt’s week 12 game at North Carolina due to an unspecified injury, and Bisnowaty limped off the field against the Tar Heels, but he later returned.
Also, defensive lineman Luke Maclean will undergo ankle surgery this week, which will make him inactive for the remainder of the season.
A kickoff time for Pitt’s final game at Miami on Nov. 29 will be revealed Sunday.