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Will Pitt’s Pass Defense Improve This Week?

PITTSBURGH — Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi hopes a week will make a world of difference when it comes to his pass defense, which was victimized for 540 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma State.

Narduzzi insisted on Monday that the issues were more about communications breakdowns and other mental and physical errors rather than systematic breakdowns or an out-and-out lack of talent.

Pat Narduzzi Press Conference September 10, 2016 (Photo credit: David Hague)

Pat Narduzzi Press Conference September 10, 2016 (Photo credit: David Hague)

“The first play of the game (a 91-yard touchdown pass) was a communication error,” Narduzzi explained. “It’s not a physical error as far as being good enough to cover the guy. It’s a coverage bust and a lack of communication. … When we have a mental breakdown or a communication error, it’s the secondary as a whole not communicating together with the ‘backers. We have to do a better job of it.”

His message was heard loud and clear by the team’s defensive backs, who have spent the week preparing to attempt to improve their communication in what could be another hostile road environment.

“We just have to make sure we just talk better,” senior cornerback Ryan Lewis said. “Communication is big. The safeties have no let us know what we’re playing. I have to let them know what I’m seeing. If we can’t line up and play, it’s a little tougher for us.”

Will it work? Saturday will be the true test, but Narduzzi feels confidence that this is one issue that shouldn’t crop back up.

Avonte Maddox (14)  (Photo credit: David Hague)

Avonte Maddox (14) (Photo credit: David Hague)

“That’s what we do as coaches: try to fix the problems,” he said Thursday afternoon. “We’ll plug up that hole over there and then all the sudden something else springs somewhere else. We know that. But that was a major focus this week. Tuesday and Wednesday, it was loud. We were making signals. I think you’ll see some [new] signals. … I think you’ll see more of that because we’ve overemphasized it and we need to over-communicate.”

The bottom line, though, is that Narduzzi isn’t worried that there is a systematic advantage that the Cowboys were exploiting or that there is a repeatable method of beating his defense that Oklahoma State, and he’s tried to instill that belief in his players, as well.

“They have to have faith and belief in what we’re doing,” he said. “They have to understand that it works when you do it right.”

That faith can give a player the confidence to go back out there with his head held high, even when things aren’t going great, according to Lewis.

“Confidence is everything,” Lewis said. “That’s one thing I learned myself training over the some. Eventually, a receiver is going to hit big plays. Every once in a while it happens to the best of us. As long as you can keep your confidence up, you’ll be sure to make a play.”

Ryan Lewis with the INT to seal win September 10, 2016(Photo credit: David Hague)

Ryan Lewis with the INT to seal win September 10, 2016(Photo credit: David Hague)

That confidence will be tested on Saturday, as the always-dangerous Ryan Switzer is joined by seniors Mack Hollins and Bug Howard and junior Austin Proehl in a deep group of Carolina receivers. Switzer has two receiving touchdowns against the Panthers in his career and both came on big, back-breaking plays.

Lewis said the onus of stopping Switzer will likely fall to the safeties and linebackers, according too what he’s seen on tape, as the Tar Heels typically utilize him out of the slot. It’s another wrinkle that will force even more communication on the defense, again making it a top-drawer issue for the Panthers this week.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker

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