Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Season wrap: Pittsburgh
By Heather Dinich
Pitt fit right into the Coastal Division in its first season in the ACC, adding to the unpredictability of the conference race right into November. Losses to Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami knocked the Panthers out of the hunt eventually, but with the bowl win over Bowling Green, Pitt finished with a winning record in the second season under coach Paul Chryst. Pitt’s biggest problem was protecting quarterback Tom Savage, who had several talented players around him, but the Panthers were No. 118 in the country in sacks allowed, at 3.31 per game. Pitt relied heavily on several freshmen in 2013, particularly on offense, where receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner emerged as stars.
Offensive MVP: WR Tyler Boyd. He was the nation’s most productive freshman receiver, compiling 85 catches for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns. He set Pitt freshman records for both receptions and yards, eclipsing marks previously held by Larry Fitzgerald, who had 69 catches for 1,005 yards in 2002. He had 242 all-purpose yards in Pitt's bowl win over Bowling Green.
Defensive MVP: DT Aaron Donald. He became the Panthers’ first unanimous All-American since Fitzgerald in 2003, and the program’s first defensive player to earn unanimous status since Hugh Green in 1980. Donald led the nation in tackles for loss (2.2 per game), while ranking 10th in forced fumbles (0.33 per game) and 13th in sacks (0.83 per game). Of his 54 total tackles, nearly half came behind the line of scrimmage (26.5).
Best moment: Chryst dancing after Pitt's 28-21 win over No. 23 Notre Dame. Beating the Irish in front of a sold-out crowd at Heinz Field prompted some postgame moves in the locker room that quickly made their way around the Internet. Chryst is a funny guy, but he’s usually all business, and this was a rare opportunity to see him let loose and celebrate a marquee win for the program.
Worst moment: Pitt's 24-21 loss to Navy. This was a road game Pitt was expected to win, but the Panthers couldn’t hang on to a slim fourth-quarter lead. The defense, which had played extremely well in the first half, couldn’t make the stop it needed in the second, and the offense couldn’t sustain a game-winning drive. It was one of the most disappointing losses of the season because it was a winnable game against an opponent coming off back-to-back losses.