PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — There is no doubt what made Paul Chryst smile within the Pitt locker room Saturday afternoon.
“I got to hear the fight song,” the head coach said with a smirk after his Panthers whipped No. 13 Virginia Tech, 35-17, at Heinz Field to give the new regime its first victory.
Indeed, the sound of a hundred young men crowing the Victory Song bled through the walls and into the room where Chryst would meet the press shortly thereafter, apropos of the fact Saturday was the loudest the stadium had been for college football since a certain bearer of facial hair was “feared.”
But what resonated most was the statement made by a Pitt team so desperate for a win it resumed the program’s proud 21st-century tradition of making the Hokies its punching bag.
“Sometimes when things would go bad, we’d go quiet. But when things weren’t going our way, we just harped on playing together,” said Devin Street, who finished with four catches for 73 yards, including a 14-yard score that padded Pitt’s early lead. “We’re fighters. We’re never going to back down. That’s Pitt football. It’s part of our nature.”
The defense certainly bought into this identity as well. It limited Virginia Tech to 59 yards rushing and forced four turnovers–the first four of the Panthers’ season. Quarterback Logan Thomas was picked off three times, twice by redshirt junior defensive back Jason Hendricks.
“It was pressure. We let our D-line loose today, and that’s what we need to affect the pass. We played assignment football,” linebacker Shane Gordon said. “Don’t count us out. We showed what we could be today…the beginning of what we could be.”
“Our front seven did a great job today,” Hendricks added. “I’m proud of everybody up there…and whenever you can make plays for your team, it’s a great feeling.
“We played with a lot of emotion and a lot of passion. We were the more physical team today.”
On a day when Pitt played with more intensity over those 60 minutes than it had in at least a thousand, leave it to Beaver County’s finest football product since Darrelle Revis to embody that passion.
“That’s what we needed to get back on track,” said freshman Rushel Shell, who pounded his way to a game-high 159 yards rushing on 23 carries, and was a key contributor to a 15-play, 88-yard drive nearly eight minutes in length that clinched the upset. “We needed to show we can compete with anyone.
“I just jumped all the way in today.”
The rest of the Panthers, by his side, took a big jump back toward relevance.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)