PITTSBURGH — Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi had his weekly pregame meeting with the media for the final time in the 2017 on Monday as his Panthers prepare for a Black Friday afternoon showdown with the No. 2 Miami Hurricanes.
Here’s my five takeaways from Narduzzi’s last pregame briefing of 2017:
Narduzzi listed redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci and freshman Kenny Pickett as co-starters at quarterback on his depth chart and said that he still hasn’t decided whether Pickett will make his first career start or if it will again be DiNucci despite the fact that he played just one quarter in Pitt’s 20-14 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday.
“I think if we don’t practice good, it’s hard to start a guy that doesn’t practice,” Narduzzi said. “There’s constant competition, I don’t care what the position is. … We’ve got to continue to compete, and competition makes people better. Ben had a heck of a day out there today, I can tell you that.”
But Narduzzi also said that the Panthers suffering their seventh loss of the season and being ineligible for a bowl game does change some things as far as personnel decisions.
“We’re not going to do anything to hurt our chances to win a football game,” he said. “I think it’s giving coaches a little bit more leeway to say, ‘Hey, let’s see what this guy’s got.’
“But I think that naturally happens if you’re not finding those inches with those 11 guys that are out there on one side of the ball or the other or special teams. They say, ‘Hey, what’s the difference, let’s see what this guy has got,’ and that’s the nice thing. You’ve seen some guys step up and make some plays.”
As far as Pickett’s individual performance against the Hokies, Narduzzi saw positive signs.
“Kenny threw the ball well, which we thought he could, but you never know in a game,” Narduzzi said. “He just gave us a chance. … The environment was not an easy environment for any quarterback to go into, and I thought both of them really handled it well.”
KEEPING ‘CANES IN CHECK
Whichever quarterback plays on Friday, job one against the Hurricanes will be holding onto the football. Miami is the top team in the country when it comes to turnover margin and the Hurricanes’ 27 takeaways are tied for third.
They’ve become so notable as ballhawks that a Miami jeweler created a “turnover chain” that they pass around on the sideline after the defense takes the ball.
“They’ve got confidence that they’re going to get turnovers every time they walk out on the field, so that’s going to certainly be a key to victory is don’t get them started,” Narduzzi said. “They want to pass that chain around and have 10 or 12 guys have that chain around their neck, so we’ve got to make sure that thing stays wherever they keep it when they walk out on the field, we’ve got to try to keep it in that box.”
A CHANCE AT HISTORY
After the Panthers were essentially eliminated from bowl contention on Saturday, it would be natural for the team to have a let-down in the finale. But the Panthers have a unique challenge with the chance to play spoiler against an unbeaten Miami team that has national championship aspirations.
“We get to play one of the top teams in the country that’s coming into our house and a talented football team, I can tell you that,“ Narduzzi said. “So I think it makes for more — but I don’t think our reaction is going to be any different. It’s a Friday game. It’s a new schedule. It’s a changing schedule for our kids, and they’ve got to come ready to play, and we will.”
Redshirt freshman Chase Pine got his most significant playing time of the season and played well. This week, he’s been moved from the “Mike” linebacker spot in the middle to the “money” spot outside.
Narduzzi said Pine has the ability to play either spot, it’s just more about consistency.
“With Chase and Elias [Reynolds], for any young guy, there’s times things happen fast out there,” Narduzzi said. “It’s having your opportunity and taking advantage of your opportunity. If we give you a couple plays and you mess it up, it’s hard to go, ‘Hey, go back in there, let’s see if you can do it again.’
“But they’ve gone back to practice and have been more consistent in practice, and it’s focus every day. It’s not just focus on game day. You’ve got to focus on practice every day, and it’s not easy waking up at 6:30 in the morning coming to practice, having a meeting, going to meetings, going out there and staying locked and keeping 105 guys focused and locked in on what they need to do, and I think you start to figure out what the recipe is to be able to go out and be successful and not just thinking you’re a gamer. I mean, practice is important, and you’ve got to show us and let the coaches know you have confidence and you’re going to not only know what to do, because they know what to do, but then you’ve got to go out and execute it at a high level, at a fast tempo.”