From a storyline, perspective this bowl has all three.
Merry Christmas everyone.
I still don’t have a handle on this day. I’m Jewish, which meant Christmas was just a really dull day other than watching NBA games on TV. The wife is Christian, though, so there has been a shift in how I have to treat the day. I’ve been doing Christmas with her family or just her and our kids for 17 years (Holy crap! It really has been that long?). You would think I would have a better approach by now. Yet, I still find myself looking at what movie theaters are open and something else to do. At the very least, I shouldn’t let myself whine about it any longer. Yeesh.
Okay. Time for a media run-through. There’s a bowl game tomorrow evening.
I know there are thoughts towards players and coaches for next year and beyond — is Chad Voytik going to see some action? Likely, though, the only guy that might see some significant action is Dontez Ford.
“Coach just walked up to me in the locker room one day and was like, ‘Are you ready?’ ” Ford said. “I’m just sitting there like, ‘What do you mean? Ready for practice?’ And he said, ‘No, you’re going to have to suit up this game.’ ”
Ford will be eligible to play Thursday in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl because he transferred to Pitt in January as opposed to over the summer. NCAA rules stipulate that a player must be enrolled at a new institution for two full semesters before competing. Ford was at Pitt for the entire spring semester, so once Pitt’s fall semester wrapped up a few weeks ago, he became able to suit up.
Because he already redshirted for his freshman season at Syracuse, this year would have counted against his four of eligibility anyway.
“We just kind of went through the information, making sure we’d be telling him the right thing,” Chryst said. “We knew pretty early in the prep, so he’s had a good stretch here to be able to know he was going to be playing.”
It’s nearly certain that Ford, a Sto-Rox High School graduate, will play on special teams Thursday, but could also see his number called on offense as well. He said the past few weeks were a flurry of learning formations and route assignments.
The downside is that it may happen because Devin Street sure doesn’t look promising for this game.
Pitt senior receiver Devin Street wasn’t dressed for Tuesday’s practice in preparation for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl appearance against Bowling Green on Thursday at Ford Field.
Coach Paul Chryst declined comment on injury updates following practice, but Street is listed as questionable according to a Pitt official.
I can’t even begin to describe how much this would suck if Street can’t play. No one has stepped up more in the last two years on the offense than Street. Both as a player and a team leader. He has improved so much from his first two years. He has been front-and-center for the players and Pitt through all the chaos. He has put himself among the best receivers for Pitt. Yet, like Latif Grimm, caught in a transition time that has his contributions overshadowed and occasionally forgotten. I really hope he can go, and go well on Wednesday.
This is not to minimize Tyler Boyd. If there’s a reason that Street gets overshadowed in the near future at WR, it’s because of the impact of Tyler Boyd.
Boyd was named second-team All-ACC this season, one of only three freshmen so honored (Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller and North Carolina returner Ryan Switzer are the others).
Although Boyd plays with plenty of confidence, he said his early success surprised him.
“I wasn’t expecting any of these accolades,” he said. “I just wanted to come here and fit in here and make plays for the team.”
Boyd credits wide receivers coach Bobby Engram for helping him stay grounded.
“He told me, ‘Don’t try to make a huge play. Don’t try to be the No. 1 playmaker. Just go out there and play your game, and it will come to you,’ ” Boyd said. “I listen to him every day.”
The results are impressive.
Boyd led Pitt with 77 receptions — 26 more than Street, the most by any FBS freshman this season and a school record for a freshman. His 1,001 receiving yards are second-most for a freshman in Pitt history to Larry Fitzgerald (1,005 in 2002). Boyd also is the first Pitt pass catcher to surpass 1,000 yards since eventual NFL first-round draft choice Jon Baldwin totaled 1,111 in 2009.
Hence the questions that start now about who will be the WR to be opposite Boyd next year to take some of the attention off of him.
Offensively, freshman receiver Tyler Boyd said he has been impressed with fellow freshman receiver Zach Challingsworth, a South Fayette High School product who also is redshirting this season.
Boyd said there was one specific series in practice where Challingsworth made just about every catch, including a jump ball in the end zone over freshman cornerback Titus Howard.
“I know Titus — he doesn’t really cut anybody slack out there, even when I’m out there,” Boyd said.
Well, spring practice is less than 3 months away…
Of course, if there is one player we think about leaving in his finale, it is Aaron Donald. Long piece from Sam Werner for the Toledo Blade (same owners at the Post-Gazette).
There’s the storyline of Harrisburg-area kids Artie Rowell from Pitt and Matt Johnson at BGSU being on opposite sides.
It was a friendship forged on the fields around their hometown of Harrisburg. And it is a friendship that already has withstood the tests of time, distance and competition.
“We played each other in little league baseball, basketball, all that stuff,” Rowell said. “We went to middle school together.”
In high school their paths split: Johnson chose to attend the city’s private school, Bishop McDevitt; Rowell went to the public school, Central Dauphin.
“A lot of my friends are older than me — and they were already at McDevitt,” Johnson said about his decision. “Plus, I knew coach [Jeff Weachter] had a great track record of getting guys into Division I programs.”
Did Johnson try to recruit Rowell to McDevitt?
“Absolutely! He’s a monster,” Johnson said.
The two friends split their four high school meetings. Rowell’s Central Dauphin team won their freshman and senior years; Johnson’s McDevitt team won their sophomore and junior seasons.
Basically it’s for bragging rights in Dauphin County.
Detroit paper on Coach Paul Chryst trying to move Pitt from historic program to modern relevance (that’s not how it’s put, but that’s how I’m reading it).
“Not everything has gone according to how you want it to, but at the same time every week has been kind of a fun week approaching it,” Chryst said. “Still, the kids kept wanting to grow and get better and that’s why the season’s gone by fast. Selfishly I’m excited about the opportunity to keep being with this team because it’s a neat group of guys.”
Okay, and a chance to quote Paul Chryst saying “neat” for one of the few remaining chances in 2013.
Finally, the biggest theme for Pitt — on both sides of the ball seems to be about “redemption.” Or more realistically, end the season showing something more than they did in the final six weeks.
There are reasons for Pitt’s underdog status, possibly stemming from a 2-4 record in the second half of this season and its past two bowl performances. The Panthers lost to SMU and Ole Miss by a combined score of 66-23 with two unspectacular efforts in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
The other factor could be the possible absence of senior wide receiver Devin Street, Pitt’s all-time leading pass catcher who has missed most of the past two games with foot and elbow injuries. Together, Boyd and Street could make a difference against a Bowling Green defense that allowed a total of 17 points in the final four regular-season games and has NFL prospect Boo Boo Gates patrolling the secondary at safety.
“I’ve been missing him,” Boyd said of Street. “Not being out there side-by-side with him doesn’t feel right.”
What also feels wrong, according to Boyd, is the reputation that has been clinging to Pitt recently while it compiled an 18-20 record over the past three seasons. He said All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald started to change that perception by winning the Bednarik, Nagurski, Outland and Lombardi awards this month.
“Just because you are from Pitt doesn’t mean you can’t achieve anything,” Boyd said. “A lot of people talk, “Pitt (isn’t) this. Pitt (isn’t) that. Pitt (doesn’t) have any athletes. Pitt (doesn’t) have any playmakers.’
“After seeing Aaron Donald collect all those awards as a defensive lineman, it let everybody know we are working and striving for the same thing everybody else is working for.”
Oh, and how the defense is looking to show they are more than Aaron Donald.
Each Pitt player might have his own individual motivation in the bowl game — whether it’s a senior playing his final game or a freshman looking to carve out a role for next year — but the defense as a unit is determined to prove it’s better than it showed in the final game last month at Heinz Field.
“[Energy] is always up, but everybody knows this is the last game, so we want to go out with a bang and a big win,” Donald said.
Safety Ray Vinopal also noted that the Panthers are 41?2-point underdogs against their MAC opponent.
“It definitely lights a fire under you a little bit,” he said. “But also you can only take it for what it’s worth. You can’t let that affect what you think or how you’re gong to approach it. You approach every week the same whether you’re playing Alabama or playing some school no one’s ever heard of.”
But not you Bowling Green. We’ve heard of you.