PITTSBURGH — Back on Aug. 16, during the dog days of college football’s month-long training camp, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi suggested that a productive way to break up the monotony of 28 practices of blue versus white would be to scrimmage some of the other local teams going through the same grind.
“Bring Duquesne over here or whoever,” Narduzzi said at the time. “Let’s bring Robert Morris over. I think that it would be great. It would be nice to have a preseason game like the NFL.”
Tuesday, Duquesne head coach Jerry Schmitt responded. His message?
Bring it on.
“It was funny, when I saw his (statement), I was going to text him and tell him, ‘We’ll meet you at Cupples Stadium and have an old-fashioned backyard brawl,’” Schmitt said Tuesday. “I think there’s some merit to it, being that we now just practice the one-a-days. I think we reported the day before the Steelers did this year, which is crazy. But there’s some definite merits to the possibility of practicing or scrimmaging against another opponent, because you can get some good, quality work done.”
Narduzzi agrees with that concept wholeheartedly.
“That’s the toughest thing about coming out of preseason,” he said. “How do we look? ‘Oh, we look great against each other,’ but what does that matter? We have an opponent on September 2. How do we match up against them and how do we match up against somebody else? I think after practice 17 and 18, our guys will be sick of hitting each other, I think that’s for sure. So I think that it’s nice to get some new meat out there.”
Of course, NCAA rules do not currently allow teams to scrimmage or practice with other teams during training camp, but there seems to be a groundswell of support for that to change.
The Duquesne and Pitt programs are similar beyond their Zip codes, as well. Both programs have a tough early season non-conference schedule and both will be relying on new, but still experienced, graduate transfer quarterbacks to guide them through the process.
The Dukes will open their season Thursday night at No. 4 South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits are coming off a run to the national quarterfinals in the FCS tournament and are one of four schools to qualify for the postseason five straight years.
“I think we’re always trying to build up our program,” Schmitt said. “The last couple of years, we’ve opened with some tough teams. Last year, Youngstown State went to the National Championship game and this year, we’re playing a team that’s ranked in the Top 5. We’re trying to reach higher, develop our program and get better and better as we go.”
His Dukes finished 5-1 in NEC play last season, good enough for a share of the conference title, but not enough to advance to the postseason as an automatic qualifier.
Now, they have to replace quarterback Dillon Buechel, a Montour alum that was a two-time all-NEC player and finished his career as the leading passer all-time in conference history.
Sophomore Brett Brumbaugh, a South Fayette product, seemed to be the heir apparent, but with four other senior starters and NEC Offensive Rookie of the Year A.J. Hines returning at running back, Schmitt and company decided to go the grad transfer route to capitalize on an experienced team.
They picked up a player with next-level experience in Boise State transfer Tommy Stuart. Stuart played 12 games over two seasons with the Broncos.
“We’ll look different and be a little bit different from we were last year,” Schmitt said. “Tommy’s learning our system. He’s a smart quarterback, but he’s just learning it. So we’ll just bit a little bit different in the way we have approach things, but we have a chance to be really good on offense.
“His personality really lends to a leadership role that in that position you really need. He has experience playing on a bigger stage that is helping our guys competitively.”
Pitt has also mined the graduate transfer ranks recently with some deal of success from Tom Savage to Nathan Peterman and now Max Browne. Schmitt thinks it’s a positive for him to be able to match up his experienced offense with an experienced quarterback and get set for another run.
“I think it’s opened up for all the positions, that’s just a unique one where we all know about it and there’s only one of those guys on the field at a time, so it gives those guys the opportunity,” Schmitt said.
The Dukes and Jackrabbits will be televised on AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh Thursday night at 8:00 p.m.