Pitt notebook: Chryst keeps Panthers motivated amid adversity |

Pitt notebook: Chryst keeps Panthers motivated amid adversity

Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt's Ray Vinopal breaks up a second-quarter pass intended for Syracuse's Ben Lewis in the end zone Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, at Heinz Field.

Pitt coach Paul Chryst has faced criticism on many fronts this season, most of it related to game-day decisions.

But Chryst excelled in another important facet of his job: keeping his players focused and interested during a string of six losses in seven games that kept the Panthers out of the chase for the ACC Coastal Division.

“It’s not easy, right?” he said of players maintaining their concentration during a losing streak. “But you have to (stayed focused). Each week’s a new opponent. No matter what happened the previous week, it doesn’t help you going forward. Guys are staying the course and seeing the things that they can control and trying to focus on those.”

Safety Ray Vinopal thinks like his coach.

“This team does a great job of being grateful for a new week to go out and prove ourselves,” he said.

Kickoff vs. Miami at 7 p.m.

Pitt’s game against Miami at Sun Life Stadium will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday and will be televised by ESPN2. It will be the Panthers’ fourth prime-time game. The Panthers (5-6, 3-4) need to win, or they will fail to qualify for a bowl for the first time since 2007.

Close counts, too

Vinopal said Chryst convinced the team the stretch of losing was not as bad as results indicated.

“Coach Chryst made a good point that really got me going,” Vinopal said. “He said, ‘If you’re not a good team, you are not in close games.’ ”

Five of Pitt’s six losses were by a total of 28 points. The exception is the Georgia Tech game when Pitt lost six fumbles in a 56-28 defeat.

“This team is 1,000 times better than it was last year,” Vinopal said. “Maybe it’s hard to see because we underachieved a bit. I know this team has grown.”

Still kicking

Like most of his teammates, sophomore kicker Chris Blewitt has been forced to recover from adversity. He missed his first two field-goal attempts against Syracuse before hitting three in a row from 46, 31 and 46 yards.

“I don’t think that position is any different than another position,” Chryst said. “When you are struggling, you have to go back to fundamentals and go back to trusting yourself. He worked through that.”

After missing the potential game-winning 26-yarder against Duke, Blewitt missed three of his next four.

He is 14 of 19 for the season after hitting 14 of 18 last year.

Injury update

Chryst offered no additional information Sunday on three key injured players: running back James Conner (hip), defensive tackle Darryl Render (ankle) and linebacker Bam Bradley (stinger).

Conner ran for only 38 yards before getting hurt against Syracuse, but he leads the ACC in rushing with 1,600 yards.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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