PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) – After three games, the Pitt Panthers rank fourth in the nation in rushing offense.
Sophomore James Conner is second in the nation with 544 yards and is just five yards from being the best in FBS. So, head coach Paul Chryst must be pleased with that part of his of his team.READ MORE: WATCH: National Aviary Provides Possible Cause Of Steller’s Sea Eagle Kodiak's Escape
“We got to do a better job there, the numbers are better, but we can be a lot better there,” Chryst said. “We can do a better job getting through the second level, getting our pulls. There’s a lot of things we can get better at in the run game. The numbers look good, but we’re not where we need to be on it.”
Only Navy, Arkansas and Indiana have done it better so far on the ground. Through the air is a different story, though.
Pitt ranks 120th, not that they’ve needed it at 3-0 this season. But, Chryst does want to have the ability to throw it.
“You want to be a balanced offense because there’s going to be games where you need to be able run the ball to win and games when you need to be able to throw the pass to win,” he said.
Chad Voytik this season is 29 for 50 with 285 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in his first year as a starter. Even with the undefeated start, Voytik has been benched, for one series against Florida International as Trey Anderson was inserted.
“I thought he just needed to sit back and realize it’s just a game,” Chryst said. “None of us are where we want to be. I love the way he’s approaching it. I thought it would be important for him to step back and look and not make too much more of it than it is.”
It’s a first for Paul Chryst, as a head coach at Pitt, to have an inexperienced quarterback, but it’s the third straight year he’s had a different starter.
Chryst has not been too proud to ask for help either.
“I called all of the guys that I coached and said, ‘What do you think? What was the best way looking back? Do you like what we did here or did you not?’ You try and have a good plan for him.”
Center of Attention
Chryst didn’t name a starter at center for Saturday’s game with Iowa, but redshirt freshman Alex Officer is listed first with sophomore Gabe Roberts second. Chryst will continue to dangle the carrot.
“I think what it does is it forces them to truly grow. They both have to have that mindset and that’s what we need to help them do,” he said.READ MORE: Pa. Game Commission Issues Executive Order To Protect Wild Rabbits, Hares From Disease
Votes of Confidence
Pitt received 40 votes in the latest AP college football poll, which would put them 34th in the nation. Attention has grown on campus as tackle Darryl Render says he can feel the buzz on campus.
“You try and address it, you talk with them,” Chryst said. “It’s certainly a lot easier for us as coaches to isolate ourselves then the players. They’re up on campus, friends, other students, professors, family. There’s so much that these guys have to learn how to deal with.”
The hype will grow as the winning does, especially with tougher opponents Iowa, Virginia and Virginia Tech coming up on the schedule.
“You talk about it all the time. ‘Why do you come to Pitt?’ It’s to play in games like we get an opportunity to play in here. You’ve got a chance if you do stuff to get recognized,” Chryst said.
The Panthers third year head coach seemed surprised to hear that James Conner said after the game with Florida International that he thought the team overlooked the underdog opponent last Saturday. Chryst promises to address that this week.
“Every time you get an opportunity to play, it’s a great gift,” Chryst said. “I need to be a better job of making sure guys see the reality of everything.”
Conner Still Defensive
Even though Conner is having a breakout sophomore season at tailback, Chryst said they continue to work him at defensive end in practice.
“He’s still a part of it. He’s had a couple of decent work days at it. Nothing has changed, we just haven’t gone with him,” he said.
When asked if he’s worried about his work load, Chryst laughed and said, “he’s young.”