PITTSBURGH — For the last three years, many Pitt fans have been clamoring for the Panthers to play more defensive sets that involve more than four defensive backs.
Against North Carolina’s multi-receiver spread offense, the Panthers ran their base defense most of the time and mixed in their three-safety Delta package on third downs. Never did the Panthers play the three-corner nickel defense that was debuted in 2017 and has apparently been shelved.
Monday, head coach Pat Narduzzi said that he doesn’t expect to play even the three-safety Delta package any more than on obvious-passing, third-down situations.
“You start going to some of that on first and second down, you won’t have to worry about third down,” Narduzzi said. “They’ll hit their head on the goal post running the ball down your throat.”
He added that Central Florida, this week’s opponent, that was No. 9 in the country in passing offense last season and has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in McKenzie Milton, is a dangerous running threat.
“This team likes to run the football,” he said. “They’re good running the football and they’re fast into it. So switching personnel isn’t really an option. … Our three-down stuff is really for pass. So if you get into that on first or second down … we’ve got to stop the run, period.”
The Knights do have a capable rushing attack. They come into Saturday’s contest with No. 10 rushing offense this season. But Pitt’s inability to defend in the passing game has been a longstanding problem under Narduzzi. The Panthers finished 99th in pass defense in the country in 2017.
The one area the Panthers could help their pass defense out is by adding some pressure. Pitt has four sacks in four game, tied for 100th in the country in getting to the quarterback.
“We put some decent pressure on the quarterback, got a couple hits,” he said. “But we’ve got to get some cover sacks too.”
That part is probably true, but Milton is an elusive target that is also an accomplished ballcarrier and will also be a tough matchup for Pitt’s defensive line.
Against the multi-faceted attack of UCF, there might not be a right answer when it comes to what defense Narduzzi should call, but it’s clear he’s sticking with his guns when it comes to matching personnel.