PITTSBURGH — “It was a lot better Sunday than last week.”
That’s the way Pitt head Pat Narduzzi started out his Week 4 press conference on Monday as the Panthers close the book on their 24-19 victory over Georgia Tech and look ahead to their first road trip of 2018 in a visit to North Carolina.
It was certainly a far more positive briefing than the one seven days previous, when the Panthers were licking their wounds from a 51-6 beating at the hands of Penn State.
But it was also tempered by the fact that as the Panthers go forward, their win over the Yellow Jackets means little. That’s not to diminish their accomplishments. Narduzzi said they looked that the last 39 games Georgia Tech has played and the only defensive performances that bested the Panthers’ belonged to Clemson and Georgia.
But that was against one offense. The North Carolina offense it looks a lot more like the Penn State unit that gave the Panthers so much trouble the previous week.
“They do a lot of things with motion and shifting,” Narduzzi said. “It’s more like the Penn State offense, it really is.”
2ND HALF ‘WOES’
Pitt has scored 60 points in three games this season, and a grand total of three of them have come in the second half. That’s not going to be good enough as the Panthers move forward, and Narduzzi addressed that head-on Monday.
“You look at why,” he said. “Is it a lack of focus? What is it in the second half? Why are we not as detailed?”
As an answer, Narduzzi didn’t offer much, citing four critical penalties and Kenny Pickett’s lone interception as mistakes the Panthers made that held them back from really taking the game over.
“We’ve got to be sharper on third down, period.” he said. “We’ve got to execute better on third down.”
FIVE WAYS TO LOSE TO CAROLINA
Pitt has played North Carolina five times since the Panthers joined the ACC in 2013. In those games, they’re 0-5.
But there hasn’t been any kind of thread or link to connect the games. In fact, the Panthers have lost in just about every way it’s possible to lose in their games with the Tar Heels.
In 2013, Ryan Switzer returned to two punts for touchdowns, including one with four minutes left as the Panthers lost by a touchdown.
In 2014, Pitt’s defense couldn’t hold a late lead, including a chance to stop Marquise Williams on a 4th down with 1:26 remaining. Pitt couldn’t stop Williams all day, as he passed for 276 yards and a touchdown and ran for 122 yards and three scores.
The next year, it was a first-half letdown at home as the Panthers came out flat on both sides of the ball and conceded a 21-3 deficit. In 2016, it was the fourth quarter that plagued the Panthers, as Bug Howard caught two Mitch Trubisky touchdown passes in the final five minutes, including one with 2 seconds left, to win that game.
Last year, it was wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams with a kickoff return, a touchdown pass on a trick play and a touchdown reception that sunk the Panthers in another one-score game.
Perhaps it’s the lack of a connecting thread through those losses or a general distaste for re-hashing the past, but Narduzzi rebuffed any suggestion that the Panthers’ lack of historical success will have an impact this Saturday.
“The past doesn’t really matter,” he said. “This football team is different than the last and the last and the last. We’ve got a great challenge going down there to play in Chapel Hill. We’ve got to be ready.”
UNEXPECTED OFF WEEK
The Tar Heels come into the game with a 1-1 record, having had their game against UCF last Saturday canceled due to weather and travel concerns surrounding Hurricane Florence. That means they’ll have had an extra week to prepare for the Panthers.
“It obviously gave them a week of rest, and our thoughts and prayers are with everybody down in North Carolina, dealing with that hurricane, and how devastating that’s been to the people down there,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t think that’s easy on anybody. Those kids and families have to deal with that. And I don’t know who’s been affected by that personally. So those are all things I don’t know.
“But they had a week off. They’ll be fresher, I know nobody got hurt this weekend, I can tell you that, nobody is banged up, and they’ve had two weeks to prepare for us. I think it’s an advantage for them.”
Q ON D
Quintin Wirginis is quietly putting together a big season as Pitt’s middle linebacker. He’s tied for fourth in the conference in solo tackles and tied for fifth in tackles for a loss. He also has two sacks. It’s easy to forget that the fifth-year senior is starting for the first time in his career, and he’s made his impact felt, despite missing all of 2017 with a suspension and an injury.
“We knew he was a really good backup that we weren’t afraid to put into the game,” Narduzzi said. “He was a guy that helped us a lot on third downs. … That’s why we grow up with age.”