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Pitt vs. Bye Week: What to watch

Pitt faces the Fightin' Byes. What do they need to work on to come out on top?

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Pitt faces likely their toughest opponent of the young season when they take on Bye Week at Heinz Field at noon on ESPN3. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they have never beaten Bye Week. And to top it all off, Steve Pederson had the audacity to schedule Bye Week twice. You thought the cries to replace Tino Sunseri were bad before - just wait until after Bye Week destroys Pitt's offensive line, sacks Sunseri again and again, and forces him to throw half a dozen picks.

But there are some things Pitt can work on to perhaps swing the match in their favor. Penalties have killed the Panthers in their past two games against Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb and Pitt currently ranks 87th in FBS in penalty yards, averaging just under 70 yards a game. Coach Chryst has a way to fix that:

"It's teaching," he said. "Take a look at the penalties, what's causing them. Some of them are just bringing your feet with you.

"It's concentration, jumping off[side]. Whatever it is, you try to address it and come back to your fundamentals a lot of times."

Then there's the kicking game, where Kevin Harper has missed three field goals in the past two games and is just 50% from tries longer than 30 yards:

"That's the beautiful thing, that it's a three-man battery there, and they've got to all be in sync," Chryst said.

"I think there's chemistry there in the sense that they're all going to take ownership of their role, but together they've got to get the job done. Not one certain thing is causing it, you've just got to keep moving forward, you know?"

Finally, there's the running game. The ground game struggled to get going outside of the 78-yard TD run by Ray Graham against Gardner-Webb. The backs frequently were stuffed when they tried to run inside against the Runnin' Bulldogs. The offensive line failed to make any holes for the backs to get through outside of the one run.

Pitt also has a couple of key players that need to heal from injuries. Aaron Donald missed last week's game as did starting fullback Mark Giubilato and starting tight end Hubie Graham. It's hopeful that each player will be ready in time for next week's game against Syracuse.

But because of those injuries, several other players got to see the field last week, including Dan Mason, who hasn't seen the field in over two years after suffering a gruesome injury against Miami in 2010:

"It’s been very difficult. Two years, in any situation, is a long time. I’m here. I made it–not own my own strength, because I had help from God–but I’m here. I’m happy to be here," Mason said after practice on the South Side Tuesday.

If nothing else, it's a great story, and everyone loves a good story. Hopefully, Mason will continue to see more playing time as the season progresses.

Pitt hasn't had the most success against Bye Week in the past, but thankfully, they don't need to win these games to go to a BCS Bowl. Honestly, Pitt should instead focus on Syracuse, who Pitt plays next Friday in the Carrier Dome for the final time as Big East members.

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