PITTSBURGH — Where is Paris? That is the question that’s on the mind of Pitt fans after the first two games of the season, and no, they aren’t tidying up their geography skills or booking a springtime vacation.
After talking up the accomplishments of redshirt freshman cornerback and one-time four-star recruit Paris Ford all training camp, Pat Narduzzi kept Ford chained to the bench on Saturday. He didn’t play at all after serving as a backup against Albany.
Narduzzi spoke to reporters Monday about Ford’s apparent absence from Pitt’s game plan and he blamed — the reporters.
“Paris Ford, I love that kid. He’s going to be a great football player,” Narduzzi said. “I think the media makes bigger deals about guys playing or not playing. Not every — 11 guys get to play, okay, and when you’ve got older guys out there that have more experience and you’re playing in a big game, you guys will be the first one if he fails to be screaming at him like why was Paris Ford not in there and why was Dane [Jackson] not in there?”
I value my own opinion — maybe more than I should — but even I don’t think Narduzzi should or should not do something because of what I’m going to say about it afterward.
Ford, who was lauded for making big play after big pay in Pitt’s training camp, has somehow fallen behind and appears to be no better than fifth on the depth chart behind Phillipie Motley, Dane Jackson, Damarri Mathis and Jason Pinnock.
After first laying his reasoning upon his questioners, Narduzzi then pointed to the play of those upperclassmen as the real reason.
“We’re playing in a big football game, and we need to win the football game, which is just like every week,” he said. “And really, it goes for everybody. I love this entire football team. There’s not a guy in this room that I don’t love, and I’d love to see everybody play. But it comes down to 11 guys get to play each time, and you earn your reps during practice week.”
“It comes down to practice well, and the guys that practice well know what they’re doing every snap. … If you’re making mistakes in practice, too, is it three practice mistakes going to equal six on game day? That’s fatal.”
So, reading between the lines, Ford has made too many mistakes in practice, at least in Narduzzi’s estimation, and the players in front of him have made fewer.
But maybe Pitt fans, in their quest to see Ford, the local four-star talent that picked Pitt so early it seems that his commitment predates the head coach, are asking the wrong question in wondering why Ford has fallen down the depth chart.
Saturday night against Penn State, Pitt’s cornerback play was certainly above the line. Mathis was targeted five times and the Lions came away with just 28 yards. Jackson 3 for 11, Pinnock 1 for 5, and Trace McSorley never even looked Motley’s way.
Narduzzi is right. The veteran corners are playing good ball right now. The issue, as it usually has been when discussing Pitt’s passing defense under his tenure, is what happens to the rest of the defenders.
The three Penn State touchdowns came against safeties Dennis Briggs and Bricen Garner and linebacker Seun Idowu. Elijah Zeise (2 targets for 31 yards) was also picked on.
It’s no surprise that slot receiver KJ Hamler had 72 yards and two touchdowns on four touches. That’s the mismatch that gets exploited nearly every time Pitt faces a high-powered opposing offense.
It’s been obvious for a very long time that Pitt needs to at least occasionally utilize a package with more than two cornerbacks in the game.
So the question isn’t really Jackson or Ford, or Motley or Ford, but why not all three?