Panthers must decrease penalties, turnovers after bye week


By Dan Sostek / Assistant Sports Editor

The Pittsburgh Panthers, in the midst of a three-game losing streak following their 24-19 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday, are entering their first bye week of the 2014 season. And, from the looks of it, it comes at an optimal time.

After an explosive and promising start to the season, in which Pitt jumped out to a 3-0 record and averaged nearly 45 points per game, the Panthers have sputtered, unable to thrive in any facet of the game for a consistent amount of time.

During the three-game losing streak, the team has seen its fair share of turnovers (four) and penalties (25), while struggling heavily on third down conversions — the team was just 15 for 42 during the span.

Pitt head coach Paul Chryst is optimistic about squeezing some productivity out of the bye.

“You always want to play again,” the third-year head coach said after the loss. “But we’re going to make the most of it. We’re going to make it a good bye week with a chance to come back and play a good Virginia Tech team.”

There are many areas on which the Panthers need to focus during their week off, but the one area that appears to be in dire need of improvement comes on the sideline, as the offensive play-calling over the past three weeks has been stale, repetitive and predictable.

Every time starting running back James Conner was in the backfield, Virginia was ready for the run, holding the bruiser to just 83 yards on 21 carries.

Despite freshman Chris James taking his first carry of the game for 15 yards early in the first quarter, as well as senior Isaac Bennett going for 23 yards on his only rush, Chryst seemed hesitant to run the ball with anyone but Conner.

The Panthers also struggled to get star sophomore receiver Tyler Boyd a significant amount of touches. Boyd was well-covered by Virginia most of the night, finishing with just three receptions for 63 yards and two rushes for eight yards.

Pitt should take more advantage of Boyd’s skill and versatility. Boyd was a high school quarterback and running back, and the team could utilize him as more than just a wide out. Whether it be lining him up as a tailback or even creating a wildcat package with him taking the snaps, there are more ways for Boyd to impact the game than just running routes and jet sweeps.

“I’m the type of player that wants to make plays for my team and try to win,” said Boyd, who also took one of his two punt returns for 45 yards Saturday night. “I just try to make something happen.”

Going into this bye week, the team must make adjustments on the offensive side of the ball. But the team also needs to maintain — or perhaps regain — a level of focus if it wants to beat the Hokies in the following week.

“I feel like we just have to stay tight,” Boyd said. “We’re going to leave, and we’re going to have a couple days off, but I still feel like we need to stay in touch with each other and make sure everybody is doing the right things. Don’t fall into any dumb things that can hurt the team.”

Linebacker Todd Thomas was more succinct when talking about the timing of the week off.

“It’s going to be all right,” said Thomas, who played arguably his best game of the season on Saturday. “We’re going to get our bodies right and minds right, and we’re going to lock in even more and get ready for this big game coming up.”

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