PITTSBURGH — Pat Narduzzi held his weekly press conference Monday afternoon at Pitt’s South Side practice facility. Here are my five takeaways.
LEWIS, MADDOX BEST OPTIONS
Pitt’s pass defense obviously wasn’t up to par on Saturday, but Narduzzi doesn’t anticipate any changes to his starting personnel coming into a Week 4 ACC Coastal Division showdown with North Carolina.
“Avonte Maddox is our best corner,” Narduzzi said. “Ryan Lewis is playing really well. It’s our job to coach them up and I have complete confidence in both those guys.”
Lewis is a redshirt senior and Maddox is a junior that has played all three seasons, so they have plenty of experience in rebounding from tough games. Maddox, in particular, has been the victim of deep balls to his side in the past and has worked to overcome them.
“He’s got a lot of talent,” Narduzzi said. “He’s one of our best corners when he plays with fundamentals. I don’t worry about Avonte. I don’t worry about him at all. I think we’ll see a different guy come out and play a little bit of a ballgame with a chip on his shoulder.”
Defensive end Ejuan Price said that not all the blame for the pass defense falls on the defensive backs’ shoulders.
“Whenever something goes wrong, the first person you have to look at is yourself,” he said. “I think they passed for 540-some yards. The D-line definitely has to own some of that. There were a lot of times we didn’t get the pressure we needed on the quarterback and we left our DB’s out to dry. So we definitely own that.”
FORD EXPECTED TO RETURN
Dontez Ford (collarbone) did not make the trip to Stillwater, Okla., but Narduzzi said he expects him to return this season.
“We’ll have Dontez back sooner than later,” Narduzzi said, while declining to discuss a timeframe. “I’m not going to talk about it because it’s kids and they all heal differently.”
In Ford’s absence, Narduzzi gave mixed reviews for his passing offense.
“We missed some throws,” he said. “We missed some reads on some third-and-medium calls where we could have stayed on the field and kept them off the field. We didn’t put the ball where we needed to at times. … [Quarterback Nate Peterman] managed the game well. He’s played above-average to winning the last two weeks.”
PUTTING IT PERSPECTIVE
Narduzzi was obviously displeased by his team’s overall performance on Saturday, but had many positives to take from it.
“It was 38-38 with 2 minutes to go in the game and we hadn’t played great,” he said. “We had a chance to knock them out. We had a chance with 2 minutes to go. … If you told me we could be 38-38 with 2 minutes to go in the game, I (would have said) let’s just play the last 2 minutes and let’s go. I’d have taken that. They’re a good football team and I have a lot of respect for them.”
Narduzzi was also proud of the way his team fought back from a 14-point deficit, which isn’t exactly his offense’s strength.
“The great thing about this football team is that they will fight to the end regardless of the situation,” he said. “Even down by 14, these guys don’t care. They continue to fight and I think they believe that any game can be ours. … They just have to play 60 minutes. I think our offense and defense played one good half opposite of each other. We have to put those four good quarters together. That’s the challenge.”
“We already kind of started that process,” added Price. “We have a confident group. We’re real resilient. We don’t have to worry about guys too much.”
STABLE OF HORSES
Narduzzi didn’t seem to be concerned with the relative lack of production of his three backup running backs, who combined for just 25 yards rushing.
“It’s about not wearing out your dog,” he said, talking about starter James Conner. “We want to get those other guys involved. … We had some decent runs. We have to keep James fresh. He gets [too] hot. I think you can see it sometimes. We have to keep him fresh.”
CHANGES, KUDOS AND TIDBITS
• Fullback George Aston is listed on Pitt’s two-deep depth chart for the first time this season. Pitt had been listing three starting wide receivers, but now lists a more-traditional two-receiver set on the depth chart.
• As a result, there’s been some reshuffling at wide receiver, as well. Zach Challingsworth and Aaron Mathews are listed as second-teamers behind Jester Weah at split end. At flanker, Tre Tipton and then Rafael Araujo-Lopes are following Quadree Henderson.
Narduzzi said to expect an “extended role” for Mathews in the coming week.
• Price was named the ACC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week. Price had six tackles (four for a loss), two sacks and a forced fumble against Oklahoma State. It’s the third time in his career Price has earned this award and Price is Pitt’s third ACC weekly award winner this season, following Ryan Lewis (defensive back) and Quadree Henderson (specialist) in Week 2.
• Pitt and North Carolina will kick off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday from Chapel Hill, N.C., and will be televised on ESPNU.
• Pitt’s Oct. 1 home game against Marshall at Heinz Field will have a 7:30 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast regionally by ROOT Sports Pittsburgh.
Here’s the press conference in its entirety: