Season Report Card: Pittsburgh
Second-year head coach Paul Chryst experienced a serious moment of joy when Pitt beat Notre Dame in front of a sold-out Heinz Field. It was great for the Panthers to experience a big win after two tough losses on the road.
Here is Pittburgh's report card in its first year out of the Big East:
Transfer quarterback Tom Savage had a decent year for Pittsburgh. Savage threw for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also had quite the freshman talent to throw to on the perimeter, as wide receiver Tyler Boyd broke Pittsburgh’s freshman records in both receptions (85) and yards (1,174)—records that were previously held by the great Larry Fitzgerald. He probably could have had even more yards if Savage wasn’t put on the ground so much. The Panthers were ranked 118th in the country for sacks allowed (43). But Boyd wasn’t the only talented freshman on this offense; running back James Conner was extremely effective. Conner averaged 5.5 yards a carry, while also adding eight touchdowns. So despite only scoring 26.3 points per contest (81st in the FBS), this offense should be optimistic for the future.
The Panthers' defense was anything but special this season, but this unit did feature one of the best players in the country. Senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald was a unanimous first team All-American selection in 2013, which he certainly deserved after what he did at the heart of the defensive line. Donald finished first in the nation in tackles for loss (27); the next closest had only 22. Pittsburgh was ranked sixth in the ACC in rushing defense, which could have been much worse without Donald. But the real damage done to this defense were the yards it gave up in the air. The Panthers were ranked second-to-last in the ACC for pass defense efficiency, essentially meaning the opposing quarterback rarely threw incomplete passes against the secondary. This unit has got to get better next year, but it will be tough after losing Donald.
The season always seems better when you win the last game on the schedule, that’s just what the Panthers accomplished when they defeated Bowling Green 30-27 in the Little Caesars Bowl. It also doesn’t hurt to beat rival Notre Dame, I’m sure Pittsburgh fans everywhere greatly appreciate the effort put forth by the Panthers in that game. But there’s no doubting the amount of talent on this team, it’s just up to coach Chryst to tap into it even more in 2014. However, it’s going to be challenging after losing both Donald and Savage, but the show must go on. Hopefully this team learned some valuable lessons in all of its close games this year.