It took four games, but the Pittsburgh Panthers defense was finally able to put together a full 60 minutes in a 14-3 victory over conference foe Virginia on Saturday at Heinz Field.
“I think we were ready to rise to the challenge today,” linebacker Matt Galambos said. “Last week we gave up a lot of points, but a win is a win. We came in with a different mentality this week and tried to be more of a unit and cut down on big plays. I thought we leveraged the ball a lot today, gang-tackled and played really relentless.”
Now let’s be clear on something for a second, Virginia played a very flawed football game, and Pitt much of the same. However, when it mattered, it was the Panthers answering the call on both sides of the ball.
As hard as people were coming after the Panthers after their season-opening loss to Florida State, they took a week to reflect and prepare for the 3-0 run that has ultimately been the response.
The offense did its part. Having Tom Savage at quarterback is what puts this team in the best position to win, however he was unable to finish the game due to a concussion. Anyone who has ever had a concussion knows how hard those can be to recover. You have to give it time and completely rest.
It will be very tempting to start Savage at Virginia Tech – a team looking for revenge after the Panthers surprised the Hokies last season. Yes those people who still insist on comparing Savage to Tino Sunseri will note that the former has more interceptions (including two in this game). Still Savage has been more of a risk taker and seems more comfortable than Sunseri.
Speaking of comfortable, how about these first four games from Tyler Boyd? At the beginning of the season many were concerned that Devin Street would receive double coverage, but with the emergence of the freshman wideout, defenders almost have to pick and choose. Both players are already over 400 yards receiving and seem to only get better with each game.
Boyd has made countless highlight-reel plays and is already being called the next Larry Fitzgerald by many. While it is a bit too early for that label, he certainly has made a great first impression. Perhaps most importantly, regardless of how long he stays, his play and voice may convince many high school players in the area to enroll with the Panthers.
But back to the defense. You know you have done a good job when the opposing quarterback seems unprepared and almost looking afraid to move the football. Virginia’s David Watford threw for just 123 yards and was sacked three times.
Last season, the Panthers had one of the best defenses in the nation under the direction of Dave Huxtable. Now with Matt House at the command, it seems as though last season was not a one year wonder.
“Our defense played really well,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “They brought a lot of energy. Certainly, those early turnovers were a key. We were able to cash in on them. It was certainly good and we appreciate the victory. There were a lot of good performances on defense, but mostly I felt everyone was doing their job. The players were cutting loose and that was good to see.”
Perhaps the most notable improvement was special teams. After a punt was returned for a touchdown last week and long returns plagued Pitt the previous week, neither occurred in this game. This is a welcome change. The Panthers do not have an official special teams coach, however they have multiple coaches help and the focus on it in practice seems to have finally paid off.
Things are starting to come together for the Panthers. This week against the Hokies will be a huge test. Experts predicted the Panthers to be near the bottom of the ACC, but a 2-1 conference record means the team is ahead of the curve. There will be tough times ahead, and only time will tell if the wins can continue.