PITTSBURGH — Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi speaks with the media, including Alan Saunders of Pittsburgh Sports Now, after Pitt beat No. 15 UCF, 35-34 at Heinz Field on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.
PAT NARDUZZI: Well, that was a ballgame. Two weeks in a row you guys have witnessed some great football by this football team. You talk about adversity, everything that our kids went through in that game, the ups and downs, and I tell them every week there’s going to be ups and downs, and you know, it was a virtual lock that they were going to beat us today, I guess, virtual lock last night when I watched that, like are you kidding me. But I appreciate Jesse Palmer juicing us up, so you can guys can maybe tweet at him today. I like Jesse a lot.
But our kids fought, okay. There was a lot of great things going on, a 4th and 4, Taysir Mack, the French sweep for a TD, a pick in the end zone by Pinnock, Wendell Davis — Aaron Mathews with a blocked punt, Wendell Davis with a big play, scoop and score. Nick Patti gets an opportunity when Kenny goes down and throws a touchdown pass, executed like we expected to, and got a lot of faith in him.
And I don’t know how many — I lost track of how many 4th down stops our defense had, and our defense played their tails off. I don’t know who’s held them to that many points. I don’t even know.
But our kids hung together. We talked about one of the keys was sticking together as a team, and our kids, I mean, you talk about sticking together, there was every phase, and obviously there’s things we’ve got to clean up, fumbles and — we can’t turn the ball over down on the 27-yard line, but our kids played incredible, and I’m proud of them.
Kessman had a really rough time with field goals. We’ve got to get that straightened out. But I told him after that second miss: Don’t worry about it. You’re going to kick the game winner. And he did kick the game winner, whether it’s an extra point or not. So great job by him coming back because that’s not an easy kick, as well.
Q. Tell us about that last play, that call, how many times have you guys practiced it?
PAT NARDUZZI: We’ve practiced it a lot, and it’s called a Pitt Special, and it was special today. And Aaron Mathews made a nice throw. And you talk about Kenny Pickett and the toughness that he shows, throwing the ball in the pocket, running, scrambling for 1st downs. And then, by gosh, he scores a touchdown, reception for a touchdown. So Pitt special.
Q. How was it on the sideline? Does Mark run that by you?
PAT NARDUZZI: No, he’s the offensive coordinator, I’m just the head coach. It’s a matter of — he had confidence in it, and let’s go. That’s what you want. And I don’t know how many 4th downs we wanted — you guys always want me to go for 4th down. We may never punt again.
But we had a few 4th down conversions on offense. We did a great job on defense of stuffing them, and 27-game regular season streak by them, they hadn’t lost a regular season game since 2016, guys. That’s a big-time victory.
Q. Aaron Mathews was kind of all over the field. What’s it like to see a senior come up and have his hands all over a game like that?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, Aaron Mathews, he’s turned into a leader. I’m so proud of that guy. I mean, he’s not a captain, but I see that guy’s maturity every week get better and better, but he’s mature, he’s a leader of this football team. He really is. He’s done a great job.
He’s been a great player for years, and Coach Whipple and the offensive staff and Coach Beatty have really utilized him in some great ways.
Q. Talk about the defensive line, especially the sacks they had.
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I don’t know, how many sacks did we have? How many? Did someone say eight out there? Six? There was all kinds of pressure. Our D-line did a great job. Coach Partridge and those guys played relentless. We needed a relentless effort out of those guys, and our guys just kept coming back.
You talk about adversity, when things started to look bad in that second half, I think they might have scored four straight times after that fumble on our own 27-yard line, our guys hung in there and believed. And that’s what great football teams do. That’s what character does.
Q. You ended the game with two starting cornerbacks. Was Pinnock playing hurt there in the third quarter?
PAT NARDUZZI: Probably a little bit. He got banged up in the end zone on that one thing, got pushed off and kind of tweaked it a little bit, but I think he’ll be in good shape. I think tomorrow he’ll be back.
You talk about Marquis Williams coming in in relief and Therran Coleman coming in and doing the job. Erick Hallett played. We played a lot of DBs today. We knew we’d have to. I don’t know how many plays they have. I think they’re averaging 94 plays a game.
But our offense did a great job in the first half of occupying the ball and gave our defense a chance to get their breath at times. Again, it’s a team win.
Q. What’s it say about Kenny to come back in the game and lead you guys to that touchdown?
PAT NARDUZZI: Kenny didn’t want to come out. I don’t even want to tell you what he said on the field, but I’m good, I’m good. We just wanted to make sure he was good. So we went in, just made sure we evaluated him. And he comes storming out of the locker room ready to roll.
Q. How much do you think facing UCF last year helped you guys in regards to the tempo?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think it helps a lot. And we see tempo all the time. Syracuse is the same way tempo-wise. But I think there’s always that surprise. And we gave the game away last year, to be honest with you. We had Dane Jackson with an interception, we had Damar take an interception down to the 4-yard line, we had another turnover, we get a late hit on the quarterback. But we — we didn’t help ourselves a year ago. But our guys knew the tempo, and they believed.
Q. Where does this stack up in terms of wins you’ve had here?
PAT NARDUZZI: It’s the best one we had today, I can tell you that. It’s the best one we had today, I guarantee you. But it’s a win. I don’t care who it’s against. It’s a win, and they all count as one in that win column, and our kids needed that. They deserved that. They worked their tails off for it, and that’s a good football team, so I give credit to Josh and Central Florida. They fought, too. They came back and we just made one more play than they did.
Q. What was different in the running game that you were able to be a lot more effective than you were a week ago?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, I think part of it’s the front seven you’re going against. Again, I think AJ was real successful early, then Vince came in and gave it a little bit, and our offensive line blocked, and then Kenny got some yardage, as well, on scrambles early, at least in the first half.
Q. Even after you held UCF to that field goal, what did you say to them on the final drive with minutes left?
PAT NARDUZZI: Say to who, the defense?
Q. What did you say to the offense?
PAT NARDUZZI: Well, I went over to them, and I said, ‘Hey, there’s four minutes to go. We take the clock all the way down and we make plays.’ Have focus, attention to details, which again, we didn’t have a week ago. And our guys — again, we learned from our lessons, and I think that’s the biggest thing is you learn. But I just told them, ‘Hey, this is what we play for. This is what football is all about.’ Our kids stood up. Our O-line did a great job protecting Kenny, and our guys made plays.
Q. What do you think it says you guys beat a top-15 team today, when you couple this with the Miami win a couple years ago, Clemson, beating Penn State. What do you think it says about this program and its identity?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, we just keep plugging away. Again, top 15, doesn’t matter. I mean we can play with anybody if we execute and do the details, and we still made a lot of mistakes, guys. We left a lot of plays out on the field. But it says a lot about what kind of character this football team does have.
Q. When Mark makes that call, there’s not any of you that goes, are you sure this is the one? That’s a pretty risky call.
PAT NARDUZZI: No. I mean, you’ve got to have belief — you don’t believe or what? It’s the worst thing you can do to an offensive coordinator is say, ‘Are you sure?’ He’s got confidence, our kids got confidence. We talked about it on the sideline, let’s go, and our kids executed that last drive to perfection.
Q. What’s the situation with Tipton?
PAT NARDUZZI: Tipton, we wanted them to prepare. I was going to tell you, Jerry, but I just figured let’s let Central Florida — I forgot. I figured let’s let Central Florida prepare for him, but right now he’s got a lower leg injury and we’ll see, but he may be out for the year, I don’t know. We’re still evaluating that and see. He’s got to make some decisions.
Q. This year you played them at home. How important was the home field advantage to the team?
PAT NARDUZZI: It was big. I mean, anytime you get to go play at home and play in Heinz Field, we like to lock the gates at home, and the Panther Pit did an incredible job. I appreciate the fans coming out today, and they were loud when we needed them to be loud. They were into it, and we’ll bring them back next week, too, and get some more.