PITTSBURGH — Perhaps unsurprisingly after ending his program’s six-game losing streak against North Carolina, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi and his team are feeling positive heading to Week 11 of the college football season.
“I had a good weekend as I told you that I would,” Narduzzi said during his press conference on Monday. “I thought it was an impressive win for our kids on Thursday night. I loved the effort that they played with; they played hard and flew around. We weren’t perfect, but we were physical.”
There is a real possibility of Pitt reaching nine wins, or even ten wins this season, and that would be a massive win for this program. Sitting at 7-3, 4-2 in the ACC, they would need to win this weekend at Virginia Tech and the following Saturday at home against Boston College to have any shot at the Coastal Division title. But if Virginia beats Virginia Tech at home on Nov. 29, Pitt is eliminated from contention no matter what.
With Pitt’s defense being the story for much of the season, Narduzzi was especially impressed with his offense on Thursday against the Heels.
“I thought (our offense) had a really nice evening,” Narduzzi said. “I was really impressed with them.”
Pitt should be able to take a good bit of positive momentum from their win Thursday night, with some positive variables going into that — with beating North Carolina for the first time and picking up what felt like two must-win games against Georgia Tech and the Tar Heels.
THE HOT HOKIES
“Obviously, we have a hot, hot, hot Virginia Tech football team (coming up),” Narduzzi said. “They have turned it around since the Duke game (45-10 loss). I think everyone in the country said, ‘Oh, this is going to be an easy one (playing against VT).”
The Hokies opened the season 0-2 in the ACC with losses to Boston College and Duke. They are now 7-3 and 4-2 in the division.
“Now we get to mid to late November, and we find out that we are going to have a battle down in Blacksburg,” Narduzzi said. “They are well-coached and tough. They like to run the football, and they are playing with a lot of confidence. (The difference) has been their quarterback (Hendon Hooker). He’s been really sound. He’s thrown 8 TDs (and) no interceptions.
Hooker took over as the Hokies starter after that Duke loss, and they have been 5-1 since with the only loss coming on a one-point defeat at Notre Dame.
“Not really,” was Narduzzi’s response when he was asked about if he was satisfied with the mental errors that Pitt committed against North Carolina.
“Sometimes, the aggressive penalties are going to happen, and I wish they would all get called the same way,” Narduzzi hinting at the targeting call on Damar Hamlin. “But Amir Watts’ penalty on our sideline was no good. That was a bad penalty by him.”
Those are plays that, when you are in the heat of the game, are tough as players to hold back from at times. But Pitt is still committing penalties that are nearly all mental mistakes.
“We had a delay of game by our punt team,” Narduzzi said. “Which was our first delay of game all season. Then we got a false start. So, there are some details that still bothers me.”
A positive for Pitt when speaking about errors was the fact that they took care of the football against the Tar Heels. Pitt had no turnovers in the win, and it might be cliche, but that usually wins you football games.
“He’s played a lot of good games, but I’d say that’s one of (his best),” Narduzzi said about Kenny Pickett’s performance against North Carolina.
It wasn’t necessarily the godly numbers that you expect when you say that was one of Pickett’s best games at Pitt, but it was just how comfortable he looked in the pocket.
Pickett’s passing stat line was 25-of-41 for 359 yards and one touchdown. But he was only sacked once and rushed for 53 yards and two touchdowns. He knew when to throw the ball away and when to take off and get definite chunks.
“He was on fire; he really didn’t miss much,” Narduzzi said. “When you watch the tape, he ran well, he threw it away when he should have, and that’s what we expect out of him.”
But it’s no secret to Narduzzi on why he thinks Pickett has had such an improvement on a week to week basis.
“He gets more and more comfortable,” Narduzzi said. “But that (North Carolina) tape on and put the Virginia tape on (the first game of the year) and that’s a different dude. It’s called coaching. Our offensive staff has done a good job with him and obviously coach Whipple.”
RED ZONE STOPS
Virginia Tech is ranked No. 5 in the country in red-zone offense this year. The Hokies have scored on 43 of their 45 red zone scoring attempts.
“(It’s because they run the football and run it well,” Narduzzi said. “That’s kind of how they are made, and they throw fades in the end zone. When they are down there, they try to get seven points instead of three. … That’s a big deal.”
The Panthers rank No. 25 in red-zone defense, allowing 27 scores on 35 attempts.