PITTSBURGH — Every press conference revolves around a head coach answering questions posed to him by the media. Some of them are for informational purposes, some are for a specific story someone is working on.
This week, though, in the wake of his team’s embarrassing 51-6 loss to Penn State, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi had to answer some big questions about the state of his team that just two weeks previous, he claimed was a contender for the ACC championship.
But Narduzzi was steadfast in saying that one game, no matter how poorly played, won’t define this team’s 2018 season.
“We’re not going to measure anything after a game,” he said. “One game, two games, three games, nothing’s measured like that. You are where you are. Everybody’s got goals. Every week, this is the most important game. Georgia Tech is the most important game now.”
Narduzzi is, of course, right. It’s one game, and it’s not one that needs to define the season. But these kind of feelings have a way of snowballing. If Pitt can revert to the course it seemed they were on before the season with a solid victory over the always-tough Yellow Jackets, much will be forgiven. If not, things could start to get ugly for the fourth-year head coach.
So how does Pitt find a way to get a lot better from their disastrous Week 2? Well, Narduzzi answered those, too:
HOW TO GET BETTER THROWING THE BALL?
The first thing might be to not play the next game in a monsoon, but the weather wasn’t the only thing that held back Pitt’s passing game on Saturday. After all, it didn’t seem to stop Penn State from being able to provide an aerial attack.
As I broke down in my film session earlier on Monday, the issues were two-fold. Pitt didn’t protect quarterback Kenny Pickett all that well and Pickett didn’t do a great job of dealing with pressure, either.
“It starts with the protection and making sure Kenny feels confident in the pocket,” Narduzzi said. “Kenny’s pressing a little bit, like he feels like it’s on his shoulders. He’s got to relax and just do his job. That’s the message we’ve got.” Narduzzi said that there were Pitt receivers open at times, and that Pickett just didn’t get to them because of his inability to stay in the pocket and stick with plays.
“He’s got to learn to relax in the pocket,” Narduzzi said. “It comes to experience. I think someone asked me the question on Thursday, it comes to experience. What’s the difference between [Penn State quarterback Trace] McSorley and Pickett? Game experience and you can’t replace that. You can’t force feed it down anyone’s throat. It’s not his fault that’s where he is. He’s a great quarterback. I’ve got a lot of faith in him. He will be great and he will be better this week, I promise you. It’s just the first time going through something like that.”
Narduzzi wouldn’t commit to answer to Pitt’s complicated problem at holder, where regular Jake Scarton missed Saturday’s game with an injury suffered in an off-campus fight, as PSN reported earlier on Monday.
In Scarton’s absence, punter Kirk Christodoulou bobbled a hold on Pitt’s two placekicking attempts — one extra point, one field goal. Narduzzi said after the game he intended to replace Christodoulou, but on Monday, left the door open for Scarton to play while leaving the position unsettled.
“I don’t know, but that’s why we practice,” he said. “We’re going to see who holds the best this week”
WHY DID YOU GET A 15-YARD PENALTY?
Narduzzi was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct just moments after being given a sideline warning. He was upset that the officials did not give his team time to make a substitution and were called for having 12 men on the field.
He maintains that he didn’t get enough of a warning and that the officials made an error, but conceded that he was wrong to hurt his team.
“I told the guys, I said, we went through all the penalties and I put a penalty report up there on the overhead, and it’s got ‘Joe’ and ‘Fred’ and Narduzzi is on there. I told them, ‘I will not get one again.’ You get me once, but I’m disciplined enough; I’ve been on the field before and never got a penalty. My fault. Dumb.
“I apologized to our kids last night. It’s not smart on my part. Luckily they had to punt the ball, still.”
WHAT DOES GEORGIA TECH BRING?
Everybody knows Georgia Tech runs the flexbone triple option, but it’s coming with some new wrinkles this year. As the Panthers did last season, Pitt spent a good portion of training camp working on defending the option.
“Paul Johnson is coming in with that vaunted option game,” Narduzzi said. “It’s something that we have to be well, well prepared for. We’ve taken [practice] periods throughout camp to work on the option. Almost every day.”
The wrinkles come in the form of two Yellow Jackets quarterbacks that played last week: returning starter TaQuon Marshall and backup Tobias Oliver.
“We’ve got to prepare for two quarterbacks,” Narduzzi said. “TaQuon got out of the game, but came back and threw the ball late in the game. The Tobias kid, the backup quarterback, came in and ran the ball really good. They’ve got dangerous weapons at all spots.”
Tech also has a new, 3-4 defensive scheme that will be more like the one Virginia has used the last four years than the 4-3 front they formerly employed.
“The new defensive coordinator down there is a 3-4 guy,” Narduzzi said. “It’ll be a different front that our offense will see this week and different adjustments. We’ll have to react well to that.”
Freshman WR Shocky Jacques-Louis is now ahead of Dontavius Butler-Jenkins at X. … Jeff George, Jr. has been added to the depth chart as the No. 4 QB. … Qadree Ollison is the lone starter at RB, with Darrin Hall on the second team. … DE Chase Pine has been moved back to MLB, most likely because Elias Reynolds hasn’t played a down due to injury. … At CB, Dane Jackson and Phillipie Motley, listed as starters last week, are co-starters, with Damarri Mathis rising to fill the other spot. … Christodoulou and Scarton are listed as co-starters at holder.
Georgia Tech opened as a 3.5-point favorite. … Pitt’s Sept. 22 game at North Carolina will kick off at 12:20 p.m. and be broadcast by Raycom Sports, locally on WTAE-TV Channel 4. … Pitt is 7-5 all-time against Georgia Tech, but is 2-3 as conference opponents.