Ever since the game on Saturday, I’ve been tossing this over in my head. Coming up blank at this point, because what Aaron Donald has been doing for Pitt has been beyond anything you expect or is within the norm for a defensive tackle.
Outside of the quarterback position, football is a game where you really, truly cannot declare one player is capable of taking over a game. There are special teams, offense, defense. Calls by the coaches. Too many facets. Too many players. Beyond the hyperbole and tremendous gaffes at some point, it is simplistic to declare one player that much of a difference maker. Especially when it comes to the defense.
Yet, what Aaron Donald has done all season. What he did against Syracuse. It has been nothing short of amazing.
Donald, who is a strong candidate for five national awards, recorded nine tackles — 3 1/2 for a loss to give him a nation-leading 26 — and blocked an extra-point try that was the difference in the game.
Chryst, who rarely praises his players, stepped outside himself briefly to talk about the effect Donald had on Pitt’s second victory in the past three weeks.
“Your eyes go to him, and he sees it and he gives you the nod,” Chryst said. “And more often than not, he comes through. That’s the mark of a great one.
“I think right now he is playing at that level. He impacts the game in such a big way. It’s pretty special to be around.”
After the game, head coach Scott Shafer said he was unsure about the trajectory of the kick, and he credited Donald for his penetration up front.
“I saw the penetration and I said, “Oh boy, this isn’t good,’” Shafer said. “They did a nice job getting penetration over our A-gap guard.”
That’s because Aaron Donald doesn’t rely on his natural abilities. It has to do with how he prepares. He knew where to penetrate.
“It seems unfair almost that he is a man among boys out there,” Savage said. “That is no disrespect for Syracuse. It’s tough to block Aaron.
“It doesn’t matter what it is, he gets past the guy and almost disrupts the handoff. It’s pretty scary to have that.”
Donald said video study last week allowed him to find Syracuse’s vulnerability while blocking for kicks, and he used that knowledge to deflect an extra-point try in the first quarter.
“We pushed them back and got my hands up and got a piece of it,” he said.
We love the naturals. We gush over their potential. But when you have a kid like Aaron Donald. Someone who is so clearly working harder than anyone else. Who is learning the details and putting them to use. Those are the ones you really feel good about when they succeed.
Pitt is making the late push for possible Heisman recognition.
Tale of the tape: Pitt's Aaron Donald in 2013 vs. Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh in 2009. pic.twitter.com/NS0ZYapIzT
— Pitt Football (@GoPittFootball) November 24, 2013
At the very least, an invite to NYC. It is also a good way to further push his candidacy for all the other awards for which he is a finalist or semi-finalist.