Kovacevic: Pitt defense rises in Year 2014 A.D.

The nose tackle, as defined by his place on the field, is supposed to be swarmed by the opposition, surrounded by his supporting cast. He's at the center of it all, consuming one, two, even three blockers so the big bodies behind him can break free.

Aaron Donald, as defined by his place in college football, was an absolute freak at Pitt.

And that might never have been better evident than a year ago at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, when No. 97 recorded 11 tackles, six for losses, one for a sack and two forced fumbles.

The punchline: Every single one of those tackles was a solo.

"Man," current junior defensive lineman Darryl Render was musing of his old mate the other day on the South Side, "that was just A.D. being A.D. It was all him."

Right. And that was the problem.

"Yeah, we know," Render said upon my mentioning that. "But I'll tell you: It's made us a better defense this year. I believe that. We've got it together."

The numbers support him: Heading into this year's ACC matchup between Pitt (4-3, 2-1) and Georgia Tech (5-2, 2-2) on Saturday at Heinz Field -- kickoff 3:32 p.m. -- the Panthers own the NCAA's No. 4 rank for total defense by allowing 280.4 yards per game, they're 14th in scoring defense at 18.6 points, seventh in pass defense, seventh in preventing third-down conversions.

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