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Team Report - PITTSBURGH

The SportsXchange

INSIDE SLANT

Coaches often cite Appalachian State's victory at Michigan and James Madison's win at Virginia Tech in recent years to help keep FBS teams -- the "big boys" of college football -- from overlooking the "little guys" from the FCS level.

But Pittsburgh has a reminder that is much closer to home.

The Panthers lost to Youngstown State 31-17 two years ago in coach Paul Chryst's first game as their coach.

Chryst had suspended six players before that contest, but it still serves as a good example for the Panthers to look to as they prepare to open the 2014 season at home against Delaware.

Pitt defensive captain Ray Vinopal told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he has heard some comments about the potential mismatch and said he took care of it right away.

"I make sure everyone knows, 'Squash it right now,'" he said.

But he added that these Panthers are a much different team from the one that lost to Youngstown State, which marked his first start.

"Coach Chryst has done a good job of getting rid of that privileged attitude," Vinopal told the paper. "People are respecting opponents a lot more and taking their jobs a little bit more seriously.

"The culture of the locker room is completely different than a couple years back. There is a definite change, change in attitude, work ethic, preparation, all those things."

NOTES, QUOTES

PLAYERS TO WATCH

--QB Chad Voytik, as expected, won the starting job and hopes to pick up where he left off in 2013. He saw his most extensive action of last season in the bowl game when he took over in the second half for an injured Tom Savage and rallied the Panthers to a 30-27 victory over Bowling Green.

--WR Tyler Boyd is the big-play guy offensively for the Panthers. He had 85 receptions last year, an ACC freshman record and second all-time among Pitt receivers, for 1,174 yards (fourth all-time in school history).

--RB James Connor has the shot at leading the Panthers in rushing, as he did last year with 799 yards, and in sacks as well. The current plan is for him to play defensive end when the opponent is in a passing situation on third down.

--S Ray Vinopal, a transfer from Michigan, led Pitt in interceptions last year with three, giving him four picks for his career. He also was No. 2 on the team in tackles with 83 stops that included three for lost yardage.

SERIES HISTORY: This is the first meeting between Pittsburgh and Delaware. The Panthers are 10-1 all-time against FCS foes and 9-0 against members of Delaware's conference, the Colonial Athletic Association.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's taken all the reps with the ones. I think he's proud -- and he should be -- of the work he's done." -- Coach Paul Chryst, on QB Chad Voytik's reaction on being named the starter.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the running game: Pitt figures to improve on a running game that produced just over 125 yards a game last year. The Panthers are deep at running back with the return of starter Isaac Bennett (797 yards rushing in 2013), James Connor (799) and Isaac Ibrahim (136 yards, 5.0 average). They will be running behind an experienced offensive line that returns four starters.

Scouting the passing game: QB Chad Voytik is a new starter and enters the season having made only 11 pass attempts (six completions) in four appearances last year. But he has an electrifying weapon at wide receiver in sophomore Tyler Boyd (85 receptions, 1,174 yards). WR Manasseh Gamer (33-391) and TE J.P. Holtz (23-209) return as well.

Scouting the run defense: Over the last two seasons under coach Paul Chryst, the Panthers have held eight opponents to less than 100 yards rushing in a game, winning seven of those contests. Four other opponents last year, however, rushed for over 200 yards. The Panthers were 2-2 in those games.

Scouting the pass defense: The Panthers return interception leader S Ray Vinopal but are thin at the corner where junior Lafayette Pitts is the only returnee with playing time at the position. The Panthers also must make up for the loss of DT Aaron Donald (11 sacks) when it comes to the pass rush.

Scouting the special teams: PK Chris Blewitt -- not the most aptly named kicker in the game -- was steady as a freshman last year, converting 14 of 18 field goal attempts and going 40 of 41 on PAT's. The Panthers are breaking in a new punter, freshman Ryan Winslow, but are dynamite in the return game behind WR Tyler Boyd, WR Kevin Weatherspoon and CB Lafayette Pitts.

DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):

--OT T.J. Clemmings (No. 20 offensive tackle, 268th overall) -- A versatile performer, he was moved to offense last year after playing his first two years on the other side of the ball. He started all 13 games last year on offense after starting six on defense in 2012.

--FS Ray Vinopal (No. 14 free safety, 331st overall) -- Vinopal began his career at Michigan, where he started six games at safety (33 tackles, one interception) in 2010.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Sophomore CB Trenton Coles has left the team after an ankle injury during fall camp put him down on the depth chart. "He wants a fresh start," coach Paul Chryst said.

--Sophomore RB James Conner is ready for his role as a rush defensive end on third-down passing situations. He has been working at both positions. The Panthers are deep at running back but need help at defensive end.

--Freshman LB Jamal Davis is still awaiting approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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