- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Ray Vinopal’s speech was short and to the point.

Rather than fiery histrionics, the Pittsburgh senior safety opted for a simple reminder following a second-half collapse in a 24-20 loss to Iowa on Saturday that ended his team’s promising 3-0 start.

“I said, ‘Everything that we want to do is still intact. We can still achieve all of our goals,” Vinopal said.

Namely, win the ACC Coastal Division, advance to the conference title game and go to a bold-faced bowl game for the first time in a decade.

“It’s a long season, a 12-game season, and we still have eight ahead of us,” Vinopal said.

The message resonated in a locker room filled with more than 80 freshmen and sophomores, including running back James Conner.

“Now we know what this feels like and we don’t want to feel like this anymore,” Conner said Monday.

Figuring out how to finish off quality teams is a good way to start. Pitt dominated the Hawkeyes for the first 30 minutes, building a 17-7 lead behind Conner and an offensive line that took charge up front.

It disappeared over the game’s final 30 minutes as Iowa slowed down Conner, holding him to 23 yards over his final 11 carries, while methodically rallying. Conner took his share of the blame even while taking over as the nation’s leading rusher with 699 yards through four games, a school record.

“I thought I could have done a couple of things different,” Conner said. “My runs, I could have kept them (straight ahead) more instead of breaking to the outside. Everybody takes responsibility.”

That’s a part of the culture within the Panthers that has shifted under Chryst. Vinopal acknowledged there was a time in the program when defeat was shrugged off. Not so much anymore.

“Any time you have a loss, it’s tough, but compared to previous years, you could tell it was bothering people,” he said.

Two days later the Panthers were still stewing even as they tried to move on.

“The vibe is a little bit better,” Conner said. “We realized we should have won that game, but we can’t get that game back.”

Instead, Pitt will press on. As good as the Panthers have looked at times, there is plenty to work on. Quarterback Chad Voytik passed for a career-high 250 yards against Iowa, but badly missed wide receiver Tyler Boyd twice in Iowa territory late in the fourth quarter. The first incompletion resulted in a turnover on downs, the other sailed into the arms of Hawkeyes safety Anthony Gair.

While Chryst praised Voytik’s maturation, he acknowledged the sophomore remains a work in progress after the fourth start of his career.

One of the biggest issues at the moment is finding a complement to Conner and Boyd, who touched the ball a combined 42 times. The rest of the Pitt skill players touched it 20 times, with five of them coming on designed runs by Voytik.

“We want to get everyone (involved),” Chryst said. “I’m no stranger to that. He’s got to keep growing. We’ve got to keep growing.”


Online: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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