Panthers trying to stay positive as bowl hopes dim
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst doesn’t get too high or too low, regardless of the circumstances. He’s just not wired that way.
It’s that sense of stability that has made Chryst popular in his locker room even as the Panthers find themselves in a slide that puts their chances of making a bowl game for the seventh straight season in serious jeopardy.
Pitt (4-6, 2-4 ACC) needs to win each of its final two games to become bowl eligible following a 40-35 loss to North Carolina on Saturday. The Panthers have dropped six of seven following a 3-0 start, with four of the defeats coming by less than a touchdown.
Disheartening? Yes. Depressing? Chryst isn’t quite ready to go there.
“There’s not a lot of mystery to it,” Chryst said. “We’ve got to make more plays than our opponent. It’s not easy, but it’s not complicated.”
Even if the Panthers have done their best to make it that way.
Pitt has lost three straight games in different ways. One week, the Panthers fumbled six times — including a record-tying five in the first quarter— of a 56-28 loss to Georgia Tech. The next, Chris Blewitt missed a 26-yard field goal at the end of regulation before Pitt lost to Duke in overtime. And against the Tar Heels, Pitt led for three quarters before allowing the winning score with 50 seconds remaining.
“We had a couple of drives where we’ve got an opportunity to stop the drive, be it a sack or defending a pass,” Chryst said. “You do that, you get off the field. That’s the margin. Offensively, we had a couple drives stalled so you don’t get points off of that. You look back at it, and in close games, (those) points make a difference.”
Guard Matt Rotheram insists the team has not lost faith in itself even though the Panthers have won just once in two months.
“We’ve been through tough times here before,” Rotheram said. “Last year we were pretty inconsistent, winning two games and losing two games. But you keep trying to fight through it and try to earn ourselves a chance to play one more game.”
The bowl berth would be a boon for a program that has 81 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, including running back James Conner, who leads the ACC in yards rushing, rushing touchdowns and scoring.
It’s not quite the season Conner envisioned, yet he’s proven more than capable of carrying a heavy burden while quarterback Chad Voytik learns on the job. Conner is averaging 25 carries a game. His body remains remarkably healthy and he’s not exactly looking forward to time off.
“I knew I was going to have a bit of a workload this year, so I was prepared for it,” he said.
And he’s prepared to recharge emotionally as the Panthers try to put together wins over Syracuse and Miami in hopes of extending an uneven season beyond Nov. 29.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “But we’ll be all right.”