Panthers searching for answers after 0-2 start
Welcome to Paul Chryst's idea of ''fun.''
Sure, the first-year Pitt coach never imagined the Panthers would start his tenure 0-2. Or that the offense would be plagued by the same pass protection breakdowns that battered quarterback Tino Sunseri last year. Or that the young defense would spend so much time on its heels early in games.
Chryst, however, did imagine adversity. If it came sooner than he expected, that's fine. He believes the Panthers will be all the better for it.
''We've got plenty of things we need to improve upon and quite honestly, that part of the process is fun and enjoyable,'' Chryst said. ''Guys are working at it ... I like this team and the way they're going about it.''
The Panthers have little choice if they want to turn things around quickly. It won't be easy with No. 13 Virginia Tech (2-0) visiting on Saturday. A loss would drop Pitt to 0-3 for the first time since 2005.
Yet there are no signs of panic. Though Sunseri continues the sometimes painful process of learning his third different offensive system in as many years, Chryst has no plans to make a change. The coach places much of the blame for some of Sunseri's miscues on the position he's been put in.
Take the final seconds of the first half against Cincinnati. With the ball at the Bearcats 2 and 5 seconds left in the half, Chryst opted to run one more play and try for a touchdown to cut into a 17-0 deficit.
Sunseri took the snap and double-pumped before throwing incomplete. By the time the ball fell to the ground, the clock read zero.
Looking back, Chryst admits he should have taken a more conservative approach.
''I would have kicked it with 5 seconds left and not put them in position to where we don't get another play off,'' he said.
It's a miscalculation that cost the Panthers some momentum. So did the six sacks the Bearcats collected when Pitt was forced to throw in an effort to catch up.
The offensive line was a major problem last season when the Panthers allowed the most sacks in the country. The half-dozen they gave up to the Bearcats has them tied for 12th in the category two games into 2012.
Chryst acknowledges Sunseri may have held onto the ball too long on a couple of occasions, but added Pitt's issues go beyond the quarterback's tentativeness. During one play, the Panthers kept both running backs in the backfield to ward off the blitz and still couldn't stop Cincinnati's pass rush from slicing through.
''We've got to make sure everyone is squared away,'' Chryst added. ''Everyone is responsible for those sacks.''
Pitt will need to be much improved if it wants to upset the Hokies in what will serve as a preview of sorts for what awaits the Panthers when they join the ACC next season. Virginia Tech and Pitt will play each other annually as part of the ACC's Coastal Division, renewing a rivalry that was among the more entertaining in the Big East before the Hokies split for the ACC in 2004.
The Panthers won the last meeting, a 31-28 upset of then fifth-ranked Virginia Tech in 2003. No player on either team Saturday was even in high school at the time.
And there's hardly any guarantees about what Pitt will look like next fall, so don't expect Chryst or the Panthers to get caught looking too far down the road. There's way too much to worry about at the moment to think about sending a message.
''People ask me if it's a measuring stick for the future, I say it's a measuring stick for right now,'' Chryst said. ''All that matters is the now.''