Panthers hoping short week provides distraction after upset bid against Notre Dame goes awry
PITTSBURGH – Joe Trebitz needed to turn the TV off and forget about football for awhile.
The Pitt senior linebacker just couldn't quite stomach watching the highlights of a season-making victory slip away. The final moments of the Panthers' 29-26 triple-overtime loss to Notre Dame last Saturday will replay in his head for years to come, no need to rub it in.
"I just kind of relaxed and had some recovery time," Trebitz said.
Less than 48 hours after a gut-wrenching collapse in which the Panthers squandered a 14-point fourth-quarter lead on the road against the unbeaten Fighting Irish, the Panthers were back at work on Monday getting ready for Friday night's game at Connecticut.
"You can't go back," cornerback K'Waun Williams said. "You've just got to let it be the past."
This one, though, might take a little bit to get over. The Panthers (4-5) had several opportunities to give first-year coach Paul Chryst a signature victory in an up-and-down season. Instead, Chryst found himself playing both consoler and motivator when Notre Dame escaped.
"Guys will come back," Chryst said. "We've all got a choice and what do we do with that choice. You throw on the film, you know UConn's a good football team. I think in this case, a shorter week is maybe a good thing. I think maybe we all are looking forward to getting back and going. You turn the page. We already have really. You have to."
Quarterback Tino Sunseri included. The senior made pointed comments about placekicker Kevin Harper, who missed a 33-yard field goal attempt in the second overtime period that would have won the game.
"We missed a field goal," Sunseri said in the aftermath. "That's why we lost the game. It came down to a special teams play. We didn't make the play."
Chryst chastised Sunseri for the outburst and pointed out there is plenty of blame to go around.
"A lot of guys made plays to put us in position to win that game and we all did some things that led to us not winning," Chryst said. "It doesn't fall on one guy."
Though watching film on Sunday was a solemn affair, Chryst believes the moping was kept to a minimum. If he needs to get his team's attention, he need only point to the standings. Pitt needs to win two of its final three games to earn a bowl bid for the fifth straight season.
Chryst spends most of the time preaching a "one play at a time" ethos but admitted this is the point in the season when it's time to look at the big picture.
"We'll talk about that stuff and yet you can still keep your focus on the task at hand," he said.
For the Panthers that includes trying to end their time in the Big East on an up note. It's something they know they can do with ease if they play like they did in South Bend.
The problem is, they haven't always done that this year. Pitt's schedule includes a romp over then 13th-ranked Virginia Tech, a tough 10-point loss to unbeaten Louisville and a thriller against the Irish.
That same slate, however, also features a loss to Youngstown State, a one-point defeat at Syracuse and uninspired victory against overmatched Buffalo.
Chryst understands it's difficult to duplicate the unique opportunity that comes with playing at Notre Dame. Things won't be nearly as electric in Connecticut. Yet the game counts just as much in the standings, and for a team that is looking to play beyond the regular season finale against South Florida on Dec. 1, there's all the incentive in the world to bounce back quickly.
"I want to be around this group of guys as long as I can," said Trebitz, who had a team-high 13 tackles against the Fighting Irish in his first career start. "They're my family. You want to be around them as much as possible. There's three games left. We want to make it four."
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP