November 10, 2013

Ray Vinopal: The Hero

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Opponent(s),Players — Justin @ 2:00 am

Down 21-6 after a two yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, things didn’t look too bright for Pitt. Then, an eight play drive was capped off by a 26 yard touchdown throw and suddenly it was a one score game. That touchdown was the catalyst to a come from behind victory, one that was finalized with an 18 yard field goal as time expired. The win kept Pitt alive in the race for the conference title. Of course that wasn’t yesterdays Pitt-Notre Dame game. It was Pitt vs UConn on October 10th, 2009. Why is this relevant? It was the last time Pitt won a game they were trailing at half time.

Savor that for a second. It feels good, doesn’t it? It’s like a cold beer after a great day. 

I’m not sure which is crazier: this was the first come from behind win in over four years or that Ray Vinopal was the hero. Don’t get me wrong, Vinopal got burned twice, but he’s a safety in man coverage, that’s not ideal for his skill set. I don’t blame him entirely for the TJ Jones touchdown because Vinopal should never be 1 on 1 with a WR as talented as Jones. Still, he made three game changing plays and was responsible for a 21 point turnaround in the game. He prevented two touchdowns and created another one. The offense was okay, but without Vinopal they’re never in a position to take the lead. My hats off to Ray because the fans have given him a lot of their angst the past two seasons and it’s great to see him come up huge.

The other real difference in the game was the return of the deep ball. Only one connected (63 yard touchdown to Street) but the threat of it forced Notre Dame to play defense differently, which opened up the middle of the field a lot more. On the drive that tied it up 14-14 in the 3rd quarter, it was all running and a pass interference call on a deep pass that led to the score. On that drive, RBs had 8 carries for 32 yards, two of which were for first downs. With the threat of the deep ball, the running game moved better and Savage got a lot better as the game went on at small ball.

Offensive play-calling was much better as the game went on as well. My big complaint is that the running game tends to vanish for long stretches of time but it came back in the second half and you can see the results. I said in my Know Your Enemy column “If the offense wants to score (without short fields caused by turnovers or special teams) they’ll have to be methodical, something they have not done all season.” Touchdown drives of 13 and 10 are just that. Add in a short field off of a turnover and an incredible play by Devin Street and you get a very respectable day on the scoreboard.

Overall, enjoy the win. I certainly didn’t see it coming, but I’m ecstatic to be wrong. The atmosphere was incredible; the crowd in the fourth quarter on key defensive plays was incredible. I know crowd noise caused a timeout and a false start and it certainly affected Notre Dame’s offense in other, more subtle ways. With close to 50 recruits there for the game, including key targets like Alex Bookser, Montae Nicholson, Rasaan Stewart, Sterling Jenkins (2015), Jordan Whitehead (2015), and Tyrone Wheatley (2015) it’s safe to say this win may go beyond the football field.

Oh, and one more thing…

From’s ACC Blog – what we learned in the ACC this week:

4. Breakthrough win for Pitt. It was easy to doubt the Panthers heading into their game against Notre Dame. They entered the contest off back-to-back losses, and their run game was nearly nonexistent. But something about the Irish brings out the best in Pitt, which came oh-so-close to pulling the upset in each of the previous two seasons. Well, the Panthers finally broke through Saturday night, forcing three turnovers and getting inspired play from their offensive line and Tom Savage in a 28-21 win. It certainly helped Pitt’s cause that Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt was ejected on a questionable targeting call early in the game, further depleting an injury-riddled group. But Pitt earned this win. The Panthers moved one victory away from bowl eligibility and gave coach Paul Chryst victories over ranked teams in consecutive seasons.

Comment by Pitt Dad 11.10.13 @ 12:33 pm

Also from the ACC Blog – Helmet Stickers:

Pitt safety Ray Vinopal. The Panthers may not have beaten No. 23 Notre Dame 28-21 without Vinopal, who had two critical interceptions in the fourth quarter to key the impressive win. On the first, Vinopal intercepted Tommy Rees in the end zone to end one drive. On the second, he returned his interception down to the 5, setting up the game-winning Panthers score. Vinopal also had a forced fumble early in the game, making him solely responsible for all three Irish turnovers.

Comment by Pitt Dad 11.10.13 @ 12:34 pm

Comment by Frank MD 11.10.13 @ 12:40 pm

I don’t think there was anything questionable about that targeting call. When I saw it live I thought that Tuitt gave him a forearm/elbow blow but on replay it sure looked like an intentional shot with the helmet. It’s about time the ACC did something to protect Tommy.

Comment by 2$Chuck 11.10.13 @ 3:21 pm

@Frank — Thanks for sharing the link.

Comment by 2$Chuck 11.10.13 @ 3:23 pm

I’ve been critical of Vinopal’s play all season (correctly so) but he earned a game ball for his come back effort in the second half. He was exposed the first half but adjusted well in the second. Hopefully it provide confidence to him.

Always great to beat the Irish and all but eliminate any chance that they get a BCS bowl and its excessive payout.


Comment by Pitt Fan in Atlanta 11.10.13 @ 3:43 pm

I think we did whichever BCS bowl would have invited ND. They would get blown out by anybody in the Top 15. Except for maybe Northern Illinois. lol

Comment by EMel 11.10.13 @ 4:46 pm

^^would have invited ND a favor.^^

Comment by EMel 11.10.13 @ 4:47 pm

Poor Tyler, gets verbally hammered by the ND homer announcer and had to wear the helmet with the Groundhog on it. And the funky uni’s.

He can thank Cornhole for that. Wonder if he ever comes back around Pitt’s practice facility.

Comment by EMel 11.10.13 @ 4:50 pm

I watched the play [targeting] in real time and agreed with the call. I watched the replay and watched Savage’s helmet the whole time and he tucked in in so not to get it hit and led with his shoulder to take the hit. The defender went straight to the helmet. Watch it tonight [Sunday] at 9:30 on the U.

Comment by joel 11.10.13 @ 5:24 pm

I agree with the call. The announcers kept talking about Savage lowering his head and Tuitt not see that, but that’s because Tuitt had lowered his head. If he had kept his head up he would have seen Savage’s lowered head. But all of that does not matter.
Tuitt looked like a bull lowering his head to charge. If that’s not using the helmet as a weapon then it never will be.
Watching the replay on the U. They are chopping the sh!t out of the game.

Comment by Caw Miller 11.10.13 @ 9:58 pm

EMel – Palko has been at a few of the practices I’ve attended over the last few years so he keeps ties with PITT.

I forgot that it was also Vinopal who created that big fumble in the first half. When he transferred in and I watched him in practices before the 2011 season, which he had to sit out, I though he’d make an immediate impact for the DBs when he could play last season.

Didn’t happen that way but it seems as though he’s progressed a bit each season. He’s a rsJR so he’ll have one more season with us and maybe that will be his breakout year…

I’m getting more excited about Jaymar Parrish then just about any of the true FR except for maybe Boyd. Great move by Rudolph to keep him at FB instead of making him an “H-Back” in this offense. It isn’t easy for a true FR, who isn’t a “star” player like Boyd, to beat out an established upperclass starter but he did so and it is paying off big dividends. His lead blocking has been very good for a FR and at 6’2″ & 230 he can put on a few more pounds and muscle for that position. I think his future is bright.

Seven of out Top 8 receivers return next season. That will really help out an inexperienced QB no matter who is back there. If it is Voytik the fact that he’s been able to practice with those receivers for two years will help also.

It would be great if Savage could have another year but since it can’t happen lets hope that this coaching staff stays intact so they can help out Voytik as much as possible. I am impressed with what Bollinger and Rudolph have done so far with Sunseri last season and then Savage this year.

If we can keep Bollinger on staff, along with Bobby Engram for the WRs, then when 2014 QBs Freebeck and Bertke get here we’ll have a great chance for a solid passing game for more than one year at a time. I doubt Chryst will roll the dice on a true FR starter and lets hope he doesn’t have to, but both of those kids fit his idea of what he wants in a QB.

Great win and lets keep in going for NC on Saturday.

Comment by Reed 11.11.13 @ 7:55 am

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