On Saturday, Avonte Maddox, Pitt’s only returning starter at cornerback, left the game with a left arm injury and did not return. The injury looked significant, with replays showing Maddox hyperextending his left elbow and him writhing on the field in pain.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi — per his usual policy — will not give an update on Maddox until he is required to by ACC rules on Thursday. Maddox remains listed as the starter at corner opposite Ryan Lewis on the team’s two-deep depth chart.
What has changed is the bottom of that section of the two-deep, as freshmen Damar Hamlin and Therran Coleman are listed for the first time this week. Both are listed as third string, with Hamlin behind Dane Jackson — who replaced Maddox in the game Saturday — and Coleman behind Lewis and Phillipie Motley.
But Narduzzi said that the addition to the depth chart doesn’t necessarily change things for the two freshmen going forward.
“They have been there all year,” he said. “You could put them on depth chart all you want. I just thought with Avonte not finishing the game, it would cause some stir.” That’s not to say that he hasn’t seen good things from the young duo. Coleman spent last week as the scout team quarterback to help prepare for Georgia Tech’s triple option, and the staff was very complimentary of his work in that department.
“They are just getting closer,” Narduzzi said. “They are freshmen and we’ll see how much closer they are.”
While there won’t be an official word on Maddox until Thursday, if he doesn’t practice this week, don’t expect him to suit up this Saturday.
“I’ve always been to the point where if he can’t practice during the week, it’s tough to play the guy,” Narduzzi said. “I think you play like you practice and if you don’t practice, you’ll have a hard time playing the game.”
SOLID MARKS FOR JACKSON
But in order for Hamlin or Coleman to have an impact this week, they’d have to pass Jackson, and that may be more difficult to do than expected. Narduzzi liked what he saw from the redshirt freshman in his first extended action.
“I was impressed,” Narduzzi said. “You didn’t see a timid guy out there going, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’ He’s shown [that]. You know, we practice a lot, so we’ve seen that. I was impressed with what he did.”
Jackson did give up one long completion, on a play where he was also flagged for defensive pass interference, but upon video review, it seems to be legal and pretty much perfect coverage. Other than that, it was a solid half for Jackson in relief of Maddox and he should get the lion’s share of playing time if Maddox is unable to play.
First-year Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall has brought his trademarked 3-4 defense with him from BYU and Narduzzi said it looks pretty similar to Mendenhall’s old Cougars squads.
“It’s the same stuff,” Narduzzi said. “They run a lot of 3-4 and a lot of different blitzes and coverages. So, our offense will have to be on top of their game mentally to pick everything up they do and [Nate Peterman] will have to be sharp as far as deciphering all the different coverages that they use to try to confuse you.”
While the Panthers eked out their last-second win on Saturday, the Cavaliers were enjoying their off week, giving Mendenhall and his staff and extra week to prepare for the Panthers.
“That will be the next challenge,” Narduzzi said. “They have had two weeks to prepare and get a great game plan going. We are under — I guess compared to them — a short week for us. So we’ll be moving around pretty quickly.”
After watching the tape, Narduzzi had multiple points of blame for the 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that sparked the Yellow Jackets Saturday.
Kicker Chris Blewitt kicked the ball well to his left when it was supposed to be set up for a center return, but the coverage team failed to adjust to the path of the ball in flight, leaving a one-on-one matchup on the far left of the Pitt formation that Georgia Tech was able to exploit. That lone mistake was the only blemish he saw from his coverage units.
“You can’t do that,” Narduzzi said. “You’re pretty happy with your coverage all day. Kickoff coverage was excellent, except for one time.”