PITTSBURGH — By Week 8 of the 2017 Pitt football season, there’s not a lot to be positive about for the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Pitt, sitting at 2-5 and 0-3 in the ACC and tied for last place in the Coastal Division, has seen its season run off the rails by injuries, suspensions and poor play from some of the few returning players on what was already a young team.
It’s enough to make a head coach go gray and though Pat Narduzzi already possess salt-and-pepper locks, he’s certainly felt the stress of what at this point feels like a lost season. But he’s not showing it.
That doesn’t just mean that his hair has retained its shade. Narduzzi sees a young team that is learning a lot of lessons on the field and offer, and though he’s not giving up on resurrecting 2017, it’s hard for him to look around and not feel good about what the future may hold at Pitt.
Of the starters on Pitt’s official two-deep depth chart for the Panthers’ visit to Duke on Saturday, only wide receiver Jester Weah, tight end Matt Flanagan, guard Alex Officer, tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith, defensive end Allen Edwards and cornerback Avonte Maddox will be out of eligibility at the season’s end.
Pitt is starting as many freshmen as they are seniors, and while that might be part of why Pitt is 2-5, it’s also the reason Narduzzi is dead-set against the rest of this season being a wash. By Week 8, freshman that have been starting aren’t really freshman any more, and Pitt has seen considerable improvement from may young players since the start of the season.
The schedule also gets a lot more friendly for Pitt over the next few weeks, as they visit Duke (4-3, 1-3) and host North Carolina (1-6, 0-4) over the net three games.
But not every young team turns things around midseason. In that vein, Pitt is at something of a crossroads. If the toxicity of losing continues, the young players might no turns things around. That’s why Narduzzi is preaching a message of positivity as the team hits the three-quarter pole of the season. In Narduzzi’s Thursday media briefing, I asked him about that message and he responded with a fantastic answer:
“I’ve always been a positive guy. If you look at things today, is it half empty or half full? I’ve always had that philosophy. It is what it is. You’ve just got to keep going. We can’t do anything if I just come in here and bury these guys. You can do that, if you wanted to. Some people have that philosophy. I love our players. That’s the first thing. You’ve got have a love and love these kids as people. If you don’t love them as people, it’s easy to come in and bury them. If you have relationships with these kids and their families, that’s the last thing you want to do. So, it comes naturally to me and hopefully, I filter that to our staff, as well. We all maintain a positive approach, because when things aren’t going well, it’s easy to just go the other way, but we’re not going to do that. It’s just not where I’ve ever been from.
“We will overcome this. Is it going to be overcoming it this week, the next week, the next season? We will overcome it, and the only way to overcome it is to stay positive.”
Narduzzi touched on other topics and the whole conversation is worth a listen, but that is the big message from the head coach right now: Pitt is going to be OK. It might not be today. It might not be Saturday. But with the talent they have on the roster right now, things are going to get better.