Panthers eyeing consistency during key stretch
PITTSBURGH (AP) Dave Durham is ready to get off the treadmill.
Pittsburgh wins a big game and loses the next. The Panthers falter one week only to come roaring back seven days later. It's a pattern that's plagued the program for years as the seasons hovering around .500 have piled up.
The senior defensive end hopes part of his legacy is being part of a group that stops the trend. Time is running out, though Durham is optimistic Pitt has finally started to figure it out after last week's rousing 21-16 win over Virginia Tech.
''What truly great teams do, they come back and win the next week and get better the next week and they're hungry and they're never satisfied,'' Durham said.
The way Durham looks at it, the victory over the Hokies didn't snap a three-game losing streak for Pitt, it marks the start of a second-half surge. He hopes, anyway. For as dismal as things looked after a loss to Virginia two weeks ago, the Panthers (4-3, 2-1) are still right there in the ACC's chaotic Coastal Division, where all seven teams have one or two conference losses.
Georgia Tech (5-2, 2-2) awaits on Saturday, the latest obstacle in Pitt's disjointed but still active pursuit of a division title. And while coach Paul Chryst does his best to evoke the ''one game at a time'' mantra, Durham admits he peeks at the rest of the schedule and can easily create a scenario that ends with the Panthers in the ACC title game.
''I'm not going to lie, I think about it,'' he said. ''I know coach Chryst wants us to stay in the now and we're doing that but that gives you energy for the now, knowing that our goals are still attainable.''
Chryst refused to place any of the blame on his team's erratic play on inexperience, though the roster is heavy on youth. Pitt has 81 underclassmen, the highest total of any FBS team in the country.
Those kids, however, are growing up on the job. The Panthers are led by a trio of sophomores in quarterback Chad Voytik, running back James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd. The trio combined for 322 of Pitt's 331 total yards against the Hokies.
Voytik did a little bit of everything last Thursday, passing for 92 yards, running for a career-high 118 and even catching his first pass since middle school, a 29-yard reception on a gadget play that had Boyd playing the role of quarterback.
Even as tears welled in his eyes in the giddy aftermath, he did his best not to get caught up in the moment. When pressed on if it marked a turning point in an uneven season, Voytik shrugged his shoulders.
''We'll see,'' he said. ''It depends on what we do with it.''
Maybe it's because Voytik and the Panthers have been here before. Last year they shocked Notre Dame and fell to North Carolina a week later. Two years ago they looked mystified in an early season loss to Cincinnati only to crush Virginia Tech. Pitt has not lost more than three games in a row since 2007 and not won more than three straight since 2009.
It's a led to the Panthers getting lost in the mix. Chryst insists his team is talented enough to win now. The Panthers are tied for first in their division with a showdown against Duke awaits in two weeks. Of course, it won't mean nearly as much if Pitt can't somehow find a way to beat the Yellow Jackets. And they know it.
''We're never out of it so we're just going to keep playing,'' junior defensive tackle Daryl Render said. ''The way the season has been going everybody has had ups and downs, winning and losing. Last week just put more pressure on us this week.''