Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi spoke with reporters for the first time on Monday since his team’s 24-17 victory over Duke on Saturday.
As always, here’s my Five Takeaways from what the head coach had on his mind as the Panthers begin preparations for Virginia this Saturday.
HALL IS THE MAN
Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison remain listed as co-starters at running back, but Narduzzi made it clear that Hall will be the man going forward.
“Right now, he’s the guy,” Narduzzi said. “It’s his job. You know, I think he’s got a lot of confidence right now. I think he feels good. I think he’s playing fast. I think he’s kind of in the groove a little bit. You saw him make cuts that he doesn’t make very often, and Coach [Andre] Powell’s been preaching, preaching, preaching, about making somebody miss and getting yards after contact so it’s good to see someone take to it, and something happens.”
Narduzzi was also complimentary of the job that Ollison did blocking for Hall.
“That doesn’t go without Qadree Ollison blocking his tail off for him,” Narduzzi said. “There are a lot of two-back sets in there where Qadree’s in there also blocking his tail off. So, we have an unselfish football team that guys play for each other. Whether it’s Qadree running and Darrin blocking or vice versa. Our guys are out there playing hard.”
NO UPDATE ON MADDOX
Narduzzi did not give an update on the right arm injury that cornerback Avonte Maddox suffered on Saturday, joking that Pitt’s doctors were in the Bahamas.
Maddox is listed as a co-starter with Phillipie Motley at the boundary corner position, and Motley starting this Saturday is the safest of bets.
Narduzzi’s policy is that he doesn’t usually comment on injuries unless they are of a season-ending variety, so that may bode well for Maddox’s outcome, but Narduzzi waited until Thursday to disclose that Max Browne was out for the season after the Syracuse game, so that remains unclear.
Either way, Maddox seems to be out for a least a week, and that will be a big blow to the cornerback depth that Pitt had so suddenly developed. With Maddox out, Motley played boundary corner and then moved inside when Pitt went to their Nickel look, with Jason Pinnock replacing him,
Pitt was running against a six-man front most of the day against Duke, but Narduzzi said the Blue Devils were also stacking the box against the run with their defensive backs.
That made the running game something of an all-or-nothing proposal that saw Pitt get stuffed a number of times, but also break free for some big runs.
“They’re playing a lot of man free or quarters and they’re down in there trying to stop the run, and they’ve got guys running after the jet sweep, [if they] make one mistake inside when you’re running inside zone and it pops, it could be gone,” he said. “Put them all up there too much, and sometimes it gets you. Sometimes you make a play. I think they had eight TFLs, so sometimes they won, sometimes they lose. If they lose, we might lose a 3-yard minus, but you might get a plus-92.”
That also brings into focus the reasoning behind Pitt using Hall as much as they have in the past few weeks. If Pitt is going to get stuffed five times and break one run, they have to make that one count. As the fastest of Pitt’s running backs, Hall gives them the best chance to do that.
After the game, Narduzzi was mostly complimentary of Ben DiNucci’s play at quarterback. After watching the film, though, he was less so.
“Not as happy with the pass game stuff, as you look at it,” he said. “I think we missed some plays. Got to be a little more composed in the pocket, but that will come with time too. Duke had a ton of sacks, 21 sacks on the year, something like that. Had high sack numbers and brought a lot of zone pressures and a lot of man coverage. But that goes with the young quarterbacks. It’s not going to be perfect. I think it’s a work in progress.”
There were at least two plays where DiNucci ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage instead of throwing the ball away. He also slid premature on a 2nd and 7 scramble that cost the Panthers a first down. Narduzzi took the blame for that one, saying that he had asked DiNucci to be a bit more careful in the running game with Pitt down a quarterback.
Hall was named the ACC Offensive Back of the Week and SS Jordan Whitehead was named the ACC Co-Defensive Back of the Week for their performances against Duke.
Narduzzi also complimented long-snapper Cal Adomitis’ willingness to run down the field without a helmet on to prevent a punt from being returned. Thought the play drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Narduzzi didn’t seem too upset with that outcome.
“I’d rather have 15 yards then six points, to be honest with you,” Narduzzi said. “Cal didn’t care. He’s a young guy, ran down the field, looked pretty good. I liked his effort down the field.”