PITTSBURGH — Pat Narduzzi spoke to the media on Monday for the first time since his team’s 59-21 bludgeoning at the hands of the now-No. 6 Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Narduzzi had a lot to say when it came to personnel, but his overall message was that Pitt is a young team that has some growing to do. That’s pretty much what was expected for this team this season and the lopsided nature of the loss to Oklahoma State doesn’t change that. It also doesn’t hurt the Panthers’ chances in the ACC. That part will come into focus this Saturday when Pitt visits Georgia Tech.
“Nothing that’s happened in the first three weeks really matters,” Narduzzi said. “You know, that’s why they give us week 4, and we get to jump into ACC play, which is a positive.”
Narduzzi is completely right. Pitt lost to two teams that are now in the top six in the country. One of which was the on the road. The other was a colossal mismatch from a stylistic and personnel standpoint for Pitt’s defense.
Going forward, Pitt has a lot to clean up. But the division is not a strong one and the big games for Pitt come at the very end of the season with Miami and Virginia Tech. That means the Panthers have time to continue to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s been a rough two weeks for Pitt fans, but there’s no reason to panic just yet. Starting this week, Pitt is 0-0 again where it matters.
With that, let’s jump into my other four takeaways from Narduzzi’s press conference.
QUARTERBACK BATTLE HAS DEEPER MEANING
The depth chart at quarterback reads Max Browne OR Ben DiNucci.
Both played on Saturday for the second consecutive week. Neither was particularly great for the second consecutive week, leaving Pitt’s starter up in the air entering the practice week. Both have some strengths and weaknesses and they seem to be almost polar opposites.
Browne has the arm strength to make any throw on the field and while he hasn’t been able to hook up for many big gains thus far — he has just one completion of over 30 yards — but he’s made it clear he can get it there, even overthrowing Jester Weah on a stutter-go on Saturday.
But Browne has shown next to no pocket awareness, mobility or escapability. He also seems hesitant to make decisions and his release could be a lot quicker. He’s not getting the ball into the flat quickly enough and with the proper rhythm and placement for his playmakers to do anything with it.
DuNucci has provided a spark with his legs, both as a scrambler and on read-option and true option plays. He also has done some nice things moving around in the pocket and making some off-balance throws that were still delivered to their target.
Where DiNucci fails is down field. He doesn’t really have the arm strength to be a legitimate deep threat and even on his intermediate routes Saturday, several were dangerously close to getting picked off.
That’s why the Pitt offensive coaching staff has a decision to make. Do they want to be a team that throws the ball down field or do they want to have a dink-and-dunk, ball control offense? If they’re going to have a downfield passing game, they need Browne, despite his other issues. If they’re content girding out long drives with four-yard plays, they’ll probably do better with DiNucci. Narduzzi acknowledged that struggle.
“We’ve just got to kind of find out who we are, what we’re going to do this week on both run and pass and figure it out,” he said.
NO MAC, PICKETT
Narduzzi ruled out playing either of his two freshman quarterbacks, Thomas MacVittie or Kenny Pickett.
MacVittie was on the scout team last week and has also been working on special teams at times and Pickett seems destined for a redshirt, so neither of those moves were particularly surprising.
“The other two are still too young at this point,” Narduzzi said. “But if one of those other guys gets hurt, one of those young guys will be getting reps. It’s hard to get three guys ready for a game. It’s hard enough getting two guys ready. Those two guys have been the guys from the beginning, and those are the two guys we’re going to stick with.”
DRAGGING THE LINE
Pitt is looking for more consistent production out of the offensive line. The Panthers gave up two sacks and had a pair of holding calls — one of which negated a 33-yard gain by Chawntez Moss.
As a result, Alex Bookser is listed as the starter at right guard and listed as a co-starter with Jaryd Jones-Smith at right tackle. Bookser played some tackle last Saturday and when he did, Mike Herndon stepped in at guard. This week, the Panthers expect to have graduate transfer Brandon Hodges back in the fold, as well.
Narduzzi said that it’s not just about what’s the best lineup at any given moment, but about building some depth, as well.
“[We’re] going to make some moves and get some fresh guys in there,” Narduzzi said. “In the past two years, we’ve played five guys. We haven’t built any depth at all, and then we’ve got in a bowl game and lost a guy and all of a sudden a guy is playing for the first time, so we’ve kind of said we’re going to build some depth there. Jaryd obviously needs a blow just to see what’s going on and knows he’s got pressure on his heels because Bookser can play right tackle, as well.”
LESSONS MOVING FORWARD
As Pitt broke down the film, Narduzzi of course, had plenty of defensive mistakes to correct. But he had tell his team to put them in the back of their head, because none of them will help against the triple option. But they will be useful eventually.
“You’re watching tape, and it’s like, just tell these guys that the corrections and the attention to detail that we are correcting yesterday (from OSU game) is for Syracuse,” he said. “When we go up to Syracuse, that’s what we’re going to see, the same exact stuff. So how we’re fixing that is going to be the key, but we’re telling them now but they don’t have to fix it for two more weeks, and this is what we’re going to do the next time we see this. Those are the things you’re doing. It’s totally, totally different.”