Pitt Panthers (0-0) vs. Villanova Wildcats (0-0)
1:30 p.m., Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Sunny, 77 degrees. Winds NE 7 mph.
Streaming: ACC Network Extra
Radio: 93.7 The Fan and the Pitt/IMG Sports Radio Network
This is the third meeting between the two Pennsylvania-based teams. Pitt has won both, a 12-0 shutout at Forbes Field in 1911 and a 48-41 victory at Pitt Stadium in 1988.
Pitt is 13-1 all-time against FCS opponents, but the loss is in recent memory, a 31-17 loss to Youngstown State in 2012. Villanova is 3-17 against FBS opponents, but played Syracuse and Connecticut closely in the last two seasons. The Wildcats are ranked No. 23 in the FCS preseason poll.
WHAT PITT IS SAYING
The Panthers have taken lengths not to take Villanova lightly with Penn State looming a week away. Head coach Pat Narduzzi went as far as to say that he couldn’t remember who was his team’s schedule in Week 2 because of his level of focus on the Wildcats.
“We’re very excited to get this week started and get game one under our belt,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve got a very accomplished football team in Villanova coming into Heinz Field this weekend. They not only have an accomplished football team, but a well decorated head coach in Andy Talley as well. I think he’s going on his 32nd season. He’s been in the playoffs 11 times. He’s won a national championship and has been named the national coach of the year twice. He’s an excellent football coach; it’s an excellent program.
“I’ve had the opportunity to go against Coach Talley as a player and a coach. I actually played against him last I think in 1989. I also had the opportunity to play against some great Villanova teams when they had [Brian] Westbrook and [Brian] Finneran there as well. So Coach Talley and I go back a long way. He’s a great football coach. The last three FBS teams they have played they have taken to the wire—last year with UConn, the year before that with Syracuse and the year before that Boston College. I told our kids last night this is not going to be easy. The FCS is good football. They will come in here ready to go. We must be ready to go.”
WHAT VILLANOVA IS SAYING
Talley is indeed in his 32nd and final season as Villanova’s head coach, as he’s announced that he will be retiring at the end of the season. He’s taken a good look at the Panthers’ team from 2015, and suffice to say, he’s impressed.
“Well, the Pitt game is a rough game,” he said. “You got a bowl team that was 8-5 last year, and unfortunately we’re playing them at the worst time. They have 18 starters back. We’ve played really good (Division) I-A teams before. I think West Virginia is the closest team that we’ve played to Pitt, in terms of the kind of skill set that they have. We’re in harm’s way. That game, I’m hoping we can step up and play well and not get anybody hurt.”
WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL
Look for Pitt to run straight at the Wildcats’ chief pass-rushing option, Tanoh Kpassagnon. He’s the team’ returning sack leader with 6.5 in 2015, but he had just 33 total tackles. He lines up at left defensive end in Villanova’s 3-3-5 base defense, meaning Brian O’Neill will likely draw the assignment.
“The pass rush is one thing, but the first thing we have to do is run the ball,” Narduzzi said. “There’s nothing better to do against a pass rush than to run it at him and take it to him so that he doesn’t know whether its a run or pass.”
WHEN THE WILDCATS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk and the Villanova offense will provide the Panthers with a look that they’ll see repeated many times over this season: A mobile passer in a spread offense. That’s the preferred way of moving the football in the ACC, so it will be a good opening test for Pitt’s defense.
“I feel like that’s all we ever face,” said linebackers coach Rob Harley. “There’s [only] a couple teams in our conference that don’t have mobile quarterbacks. I think it’s good. It’s what we’re used to. It’s what we’ve seen all last season. We’re used to playing against the shotgun. Gone are the days of people getting under center and just handing the ball off.”
Narduzzi said that he expects to have his entire team available to him, but a couple players have been limited in practice this week. Keep an eye out for game-time scratches.
Arrive early. It’s Ribfest Weekend, so the North Shore will fill up with people earlier than usual. There is also a Pirates game against the Milwaukee Brewers at 7:05 p.m. across the way at PNC Park.
Additionally, the Liberty Bridge is expected to be closed all weekend, making traffic from the south and west dicey. The official detour is to take Route 51 to the West End Bridge.
NEW LOOK, FAMILIAR FACE
The Panthers will be debuting their new uniforms, with gold helmets, blue jerseys and white pants. The honorary captain for today’s game will be Steelers inside linebackers coach and 1988 Pitt All-American Jerry Olsavsky.