Pat Narduzzi has the reputation of a bold, aggressive head coach, but it’s starting to look like appearances can be deceiving, because for the second time this season a passive call by him led to another deflating late Pitt loss.
Let me be clear in that I’m not pinning this loss solely on Narduzzi, because that wouldn’t be accurate. Aside from the players on the defensive side of the ball, plenty of other players and assistant coaches can raise their hands and take blame for what took place on Heinz Field on Saturday.
However, Narduzzi is the CEO and highest-paid member of the Pitt program, so he’ll get the blame from me for the way his team performed and the in-game calls that were made.
The two drives that will be remembered and criticized were the one in which he choose (once again) to kick a field from the 1-yard line and then the Panthers next-to-last drive when they were attempting to run the clock out with a two-point lead.
As it was against Penn State, Narduzzi’s decision to attempt a field goal instead of going for a touchdown was weak, passive and the wrong choice. By the way, the first bad choice on that play was to replace V’Lique Carter with A.J. Davis. Carter was the reason for Pitt’s success on the ground that entire drive so why did Narduzzi replaced him on 3rd and 1 with Davis? As he should’ve been, Carter wasn’t happy as he came off the field. In Saturday’s game, Carter was better than Davis and should’ve been given the opportunity to finish the drive.
After Davis got stuffed on 3rd down, Pitt’s offensive should’ve stayed on the field instead of an Alex Kessman chip-shot field goal attempt. As it did against Penn State, Narduzzi’s decision to play it safe sends a bad message to everyone in the stadium.
Narduzzi’s postgame explanation made little sense and was not very well thought out. He talked about the faith he had in his defense and how well they had played the entire game (as he said following the Penn State game) which was accurate. However, if he had so much faith in his defense making a stop with the lead, then wouldn’t he have the same faith in that defense of getting the ball back for the offense if Miami would’ve stopped Pitt on 4th down from the 1?
If that scenario played out and Pitt would’ve pinned Miami deep in their territory and forced a punt, the Panthers would’ve taken over in good field position and would’ve likely been driving for a game-winning field goal to end the game without Miami having a chance to get the ball back.
The second fatal mistake by Narduzzi and Mark Whipple was their play-calling as they attempted to burn the clock with a two-point lead. Narduzzi tried to justify the decision of running up the middle on three straight plays by saying that’s how they had success on the previous drive.
Weak, weak and weak.
Knowing that a first down or two would put the game away, Pitt chose to be conservative and showed zero faith in his quarterback. Instead of playing to win, the coaches played not lose which is exactly what they did.
The disappointment of the loss was compounded by the fact that first-place Virginia lost to Louisville. Had Pitt done what they should’ve done and beat a very beatable Miami team, they would’ve been in control of their own destiny in terms of winning the ACC Coastal Division.
When Pitt wonders why they have trouble drawing respectable crowds, they can point to today’s game. Entering the game on a roll with a 5-2 record, on homecoming and taking on an average Miami team and the entire team lays an egg.
So, instead of being in first place and likely ranked due to losses by No. 15 Texas, No. 23 Iowa State, No. 24 Arizona State Pitt finds themselves at 5-3 and staring at another seven- or eight-win season.
I still feel Narduzzi is a good coach and the right man for this job, however efforts like this in big games can’t happen.
Pitt will still be favored in their remaining 4 games and nine wins are still possible but the opportunity for a special season is over.
It’s too bad because this 2019 Pitt team is talented, but efforts like today prevent them from taking that next step and gaining national respect.