PITTSBURGH — Monday afternoon during his weekly press conference, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi tried to explain his decision-making at the quarterback position on Saturday, when he made the decision to removed Ben DiNucci from a tied game in the second half.
I wrote on Saturday that Narduzzi had mangled the process of trying to get Kenny Pickett playing time after needlessly burning his redshirt the week before. Narduzzi was asked at length about that decision on Monday, by myself and others. Here’s what he had to say.
“We get paid to make those decisions,” Narduzzi said. “You say it looked odd (to have Pickett come in when he did.) Okay, if I wait two more series, you might be going, ‘Why did you wait so long to put Kenny in?’
“We’re having a different conversations, so it’s easy to sit there with your arm on that armrest and say that stuff. But the fact is, we come into the second half, we throw an interception on the third play of the second half, and we haven’t been a great second-half team to begin with, so I can sit there and continue to put up with it, or we can do something about it. But we do that and then we go punt-punt. You have more patience than I do, I guess. I like to win, and it’s going to be competitive.”
Essentially, Narduzzi was saying that he wasn’t pleased with the way the second half got started under DiNucci and decided at that point to make the switch, which is slightly at odds with what he said Saturday, when he was complimentary of DiNucci’s performance.
The problem remains that once Pickett’s redshirt was taken off, it would have been colossally unfair for Narduzzi not to play him. At the same token, sometimes there’s never a convenient time to replace your starting quarterback with his understudy just because there’s a desire to get him playing.
“Kenny was planning on redshirting,” Narduzzi went on. “He was planning on redshirting in the summer because we felt good with Max (Browne), and we felt good with Ben, obviously. Things changed, and I said a week ago that he was going to play, and we’re going to play him and we had some plans. We changed our plans. We wanted to really get Kenny in the first half. But Ben was playing really good.”
So in order to justify his earlier decision, Narduzzi is finding a way to make playing time for a player that he freely admits is not as good as the one he is replacing.
“(DiNucci is better at) decision making, holding on to the ball, making the right run checks, all those things,” Narduzzi said. “There’s not this gigantic gap, put it that way. … The same as it was between Max and Ben, it’s the same gap between Ben and Kenny.”
This seems to be the worst of both worlds. If Pitt is still trying to win games this season, they need to play the best player while the games are meaningful and find time for Pickett when they are not. If they aren’t worried about the results for the rest of this season and are looking ahead to 2018, Pickett should play as much as he can handle.
RUNNING THEM UP
Narduzzi was asked several times about his team’s issues running the ball. He said he didn’t have any specific answers and that the reasons fall on all 11 members of the offense. But this is what he had to say when I specifically asked him about not being able to have success between the tackles.
“I don’t feel like we’re running good inside or outside,” Narduzzi said. “But Jordan’s speed does help you on the edge more than it does inside. When you’re running inside runs, there’s more things to read. You’re not just running in a hole. You’re reading — if the Mike (middle linebacker) comes over, you cut back, and there’s a lot of things that you coach, and there’s a lot more to playing running back than just saying find the hole and be a player. You can hurt your linemen by doing the other. They have to feel where the flow is going and how to come off.”
That means that while Whitehead remains a potent offensive weapon and perhaps Pitt’s best rushing threat, he’s not likely to help solve the inside running issues that have plagued the Panthers.
MOSS GATHERING MOSS
Chawntez Moss dressed but did not play on Saturday. Narduzzi said that he was suspended indefinitely after the Syracuse game, but declined on Monday to give an update on his status.
“No, we’ll just see how it goes,” Narduzzi said.
STOPPING THE MERRY-GO-ROUND
Pitt did not rotate its offensive linemen on Saturday, sticking mostly with Alex Bookser at right guard and Jaryd Jones-Smith at right tackle. Narduzzi didn’t go as far as to say he was happy with the group, but wanted to let one five-man unit get a chance to gel.
“They did good,” he said. “That’s why we didn’t rotate through. … I thought Jaryd did a nice job at the right tackle. He still had some little things that we’ve got to clean up that get practiced every day, and got to play together. Those guys are so critical that they play together, so we didn’t rotate.”
TAKING A KNEE
Narduzzi again addressed third-string placekicker Ian Troost’s decision to kneel during the national anthem on Saturday. I didn’t write about it in the game story because I didn’t see it happen and to be honest, I don’t think anything the third-string kicker does is particularly newsworthy. If that’s your cup of tea, Narduzzi addresses it toward the end of this video. Spoiler alert: he wasn’t particularly revealing.