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Conservative Play Calling Costing Pitt



I was a little disappointed in Pat Narduzzi during his press conference on Monday.

Not in his quotes or his demeanor. But in his attire. He should’ve dressed in Eagle green & white and busted out a rendition of “Fly Eagles, Fly!”

After all, Philadelphia’s beat down of the Steelers Sunday was so prolific, nobody bothered talking about Pitt’s meltdown in Chapel Hill.

Let’s remedy that.

Pitt’s blown lead against the Tar Heels was so spectacularly done, you almost have to be in awe.

Look at the numbers. They allowed 25 offensive plays and 108 combined yards over two drives in 5:43 of time off the clock.

Plus the defense allowed four fourth downs in four tries.

That’s all almost impossible to do. Further consider that the Panthers entered the fourth quarter with a double digit lead, scored another three, forced two punts in the quarter, and STILL MANAGED TO LOSE!

Let that wash over you.

But it wasn’t just bad defense. In fact, Pat Narduzzi insisted on Monday that it was actually… um, pretty good?!

“When you look at that 17-play drive at the end of the game—we always chart plays and mark each as a win or a loss—12 of those 17 plays were wins for us. They were really good. It only takes five of the 17 to be really bad,” explained Narduzzi.


I guess I can see it that way. But one thing is clearly inexcusable. The three play drive in between UNC’s two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter. Perhaps one first down and the Tar Heels don’t win the game. Instead the Panthers approached that drive with all of
the creativity of a six year old playing Chopsticks at his first piano recital.

Run. Run. Swing pass to James Conner. Punt.

Two yards gained. Less than two minutes off the clock. Even the Tea Party would call that too conservative.

We can debate the defensive woes all we want. But that unit is only going to improve to a limited extent with system tweaks and personnel changes. The group simply isn’t all that deep or exceptionally talented.

Because of this, intentionally conservative play calling as outlined above is a poor approach on two fronts. 1) It doesn’t give you a chance to win on offense 2) You are relying on a defense that is below average (96th in total defense nationally).

And that isolated instance I described above isn’t really isolated. Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Matt Canada have shown an annoying penchant for going into a predictable play calling shell when they think they have score and circumstance in control.

Go back to the first quarter of the Penn State game. Pitt was in total command early, taking a quick 14-0 lead. They began a drive at their own 20. Quadree Ollison ran and lost three yards. Nate Peterman ran and got three back. Then on third and five, they just handed
the ball to Ollison. He got stopped. Punt. Penn State returns it 59 yards and Saquon Barkley scored two snaps later. Now it’s a 14-7 football game instead of a blow out.

Fast forward to the 4th quarter. A lead that had been 11 points with ten minutes left was now just a field goal with 5:04 left. In an incredibly similar scenario to UNC, Peterman ran for 5, Conner ran for one, then a short pass incomplete to Conner on 3rd down. Punt.

Next thing you know Penn State is throwing the ball into the end zone to win. At least that time Ryan Lewis came down with the interception.

Yet Narduzzi defends the approach. “When you look at our offense, it’s not really conservative. There’s a lot of stuff going on with our offense and plenty of moving parts. They had trouble defending it at times. If we go out there this week and don’t rush the ball, well
you guys [the media] will come into next week and say, ‘Why didn’t you run the ball?’ Those incomplete passes will wear you out.”

For the record, Pat, I never would have questioned you throwing the ball beyond the sticks trying to get a first down in those situations. But believe that if it makes you feel better. Be my guest.

Clearly the Pitt coaches love their running backs. Or they hate the idea of their quarterback pushing the ball downfield. Or they don’t think that their receivers can get open.

Or more than likely, all three.

But they can’t possibly like the defense as much as they are letting on. As obviously they don’t since Narduzzi inferred there may be some personnel changes coming this week. So, to borrow a phrase from the guy next door, the Panthers shouldn’t “live in their fears” on offense. That could aid their struggling D.

Featured image: Photo courtesy of Pitt Athletics

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker

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