You can now say that Pitt is a championship level football program.
Yeah, I know this weekend still seems like a dream to most Pitt fans, but it actually did happen.
After years of hearing the term “Pitting” and waiting for something bad to happen, Pitt fans can take pride in the fact that their football program won a conference championship.
While such a thing may not be a big deal to fans at places like Alabama, Clemson or Ohio State that’s not the case here because Saturday was the Panthers’ first outright division championship.
It’s ironic that with former Panther great Dan Marino in attendance, a strong case can be made that Saturday was the most important day in Pitt football history since the Marino era.
Pitt football is finally on the college football map. Coaches can now finally tell future recruits that we can and will compete and likely win a division title. All they have to do now is show them the 2018 Coastal Division trophy as proof of that.
The credit for Pitt getting to the “next level” must go to Pat Narduzzi.
The fourth year head coach was able to do something that neither Walt Harris, Dave Wannstedt, Todd Graham or Paul Chryst could accomplish.
Aside from Narduzzi and his staff, there’s probably not a person in town that thought that we’d be talking about Pitt as ACC Coastal Champions after their rough start to the season.
And if you say that you thought it was possible, I’m probably going to ask you to take a lie-detector test.
Anything and everything was going wrong for the Panthers. The defense was once again struggling, allowing a ton of points and yardage. Kenny Pickett, who was supposed to have a breakout season, appeared to be having a sophomore slump. The offense, in particular the wide receivers, didn’t appear capable of making big, splash plays.
Aside from that, everything was going peachy in Panther country.
While pressure was mounting on Narduzzi and his two coordinators, Shawn Watson and Randy Bates, Pitt AD Heather Lyke was getting criticized and second-guessed for signing Narduzzi to that long-term extension after a 5-7 season.
How did “Duzz” respond?
The way that you’d expect, sticking to his beliefs and having faith in his players that they’d respond over the second half of the season. While most thought he was just being stubborn and not willing to adapt, Narduzzi drowned out the outside noise and kept coaching.
Guess what? It worked.
Two things are mainly responsible for this championship run: the running game and the defense, two staples of a Pat Narduzzi coached team.
The senior duo of Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison have been the catalysts to this turnaround–they’ve been as effective a duo of backs as any in college football this season. While most college offenses are predicated on a prolific passing game, that’s not the case with Pitt. Narduzzi believes that running the ball effectively should be the identity of his offense.
An identity best embodied by the two-headed running attack of Hall and Ollison.
During the tumultuous start to the season, some were calling for one of the backup quarterbacks to get snaps. Narduzzi displayed 100% confidence in starter Kenny Pickett and it’s paid off. The sophomore hasn’t thrown an interception since early October and turned in the best performance of his career in the biggest game of his young career.
I think any questions that anyone had about Pickett were answered. He’s a talented, confident, leader that will win a lot of games during his career at Pitt.
Speaking of winning, this team wouldn’t be in this position if not for the strong second half performance of this defense.
Keep in mind, Pitt dominated Wake Forest’s offense without Keyshon Camp, Dewayne Hendrix and Quintin Wirginis, which speaks to the depth that Narduzzi and his staff have recruited to this roster.
Promising talent such as Keyshon Camp, Patrick Jones, John Morgan, Devin Danielson, Jaylen Twyman, Amir Watts, Rashad Weaver, Rashad Wheeler, Cam Bright, Wendell Davis, Elias Reynolds, Damar Hamlin, Dane Jackson, Damarri Mathis, Jason Pinnock, Paris Ford, Judson Tallandier and Marquis Williams will all be back which means the Panther defense should continue the strong play it has shown in the second half of the season next year and beyond.
Offensively, Kenny Pickett will be around for two more years and he’ll be surrounded by plenty of young playmakers.
Although it’s taken a few years longer than fans have wanted, Pitt is built to be an ACC contender for the next few seasons.
Maybe Pitt should adopt the 2019 slogan “We’ve Got One And We’re Not Done”, because that appears to be the case.
Like many of the sports in the Pitt athletic department, the football program appears to be trending upward at a fast pace and that’s in large part to the work and vision of their head coach.
Pitt fans, enjoy the upcoming weekend in Charlotte at the ACC Championship Game, the way things are looking, you might find yourselves back there again in 2019.