Football: Donald earning national acclaim halfway through season

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By Nate Barnes | Sports Editor

Just more than 2 minutes remained in the first quarter of Pitt’s 58-55 win over Duke last month, and the Blue Devils had a second-and-10 from the Pitt 12-yard line. In the red zone, Duke threatened to score its first touchdown of the game when they were down 13-0.

Aaron Donald had other plans, at least for that snap. 

Donald broke through the middle of Duke’s offensive line as quarterback Brandon Connette and tailback Josh Snead attempted to run a read-option. Connette never had a chance to read whether he should keep the ball or hand it off as Donald tackled both him and Snead — one takedown per arm. 

Nearly a month later, Donald leads the nation with eight sacks and 12 total tackles for loss. As a result, his name has made its way onto midseason all-American lists compiled by Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and ESPN. 

ESPN national college football analyst Mark Schlabach took his praise of Donald’s play a step further and tabbed the senior from Penn Hills as one of his top five defensive players in the nation from the season’s first half. 

Donald has recorded at least one takedown of the quarterback in each of Pitt’s five games, and he leads all active college football players with 26.5 career sacks.

Donald’s latest performance saw him sack Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas twice in a 19-9 Pitt loss. The two sacks moved Donald into a tie for fourth place all-time in Pitt program history with his sack total, past NFL Hall of Famer Chris Doleman and into a tie with Zeke Gadson and Keith Hamilton.

Donald also leads the nation with 1.6 sacks and 2.4 tackles for loss per game. 

As Donald makes his case for postseason all-American rights, he is also on the watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lott IMPACT Trophy, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award. Each award honors prowess on the defensive side of the ball, with the Bednarik going to the best overall defender and the Outland awarded to the best interior lineman.

Pitt hasn’t seen a defensive tackle named as an all-American in over two decades, with the last being Marc Spindler in 1989.