Pitt has started its season by winning each of its first three games, an accomplishment the Panthers have not managed since 2014.
But in 2020, just playing three games in the month of September is something of an accomplishment.
As the month comes to a close, only 18 schools have played three or more games, with two playing four. Louisiana, Miami, Pitt, SMU and UTSA are the only 3-0 squads in the country.
That’s because of a record number of postponements and cancellations as schools deal with COVID-19 outbreak amongst their players and staff, testing issues and other pandemic-related problems.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is certainly proud of his team’s 3-0 start, but he’s equally proud of getting to the point where the Panthers could suit up for three straight games.
“Our figures have been low from the beginning,” Narduzzi said Monday. “Without getting into numbers, they’ve been really low. Really haven’t done anything different than just continued to have a constant reminder that it can happen to you, whether it’s sticking up all the postponed games from last week or this week. You know, you’re one game away.”
Pitt had seven players, including starting defensive linemen Keyshon Camp and Rashad Weaver, held out of the season opener due to COVID-19 concerns. A week later, three players were not in attendance for the Syracuse game. Last Saturday against Louisville, Narduzzi was able to field a full complement. But that doesn’t mean he can stop being vigilant about his team’s behavior.
“I talked to them after the game about how I guess the bars are open in Oakland,” Narduzzi said. “Just a constant reminder of, ‘Hey, you’re not allowed to go to a bar. Bars are off limits. I don’t care who’s opened them up. I don’t care if you know the bartender. I don’t care what you know.’
“The bars are closed, and I told them they shouldn’t hang out with a girl that’s been to a bar. I’d check and see if they’ve got a stamp on their hand. If they got a stamp on their hand, I wouldn’t let them in. I’d say, ‘See you after this season is over.’”
Narduzzi said that with the nature of the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the close quarters on college campuses, it does not take very long for positive tests to impact a team in a big way.
“We could go from zero to having 17 of them in quarantine this week,” he said. “That’s what it is. I think that’s kind of what everybody needs to realize, is just because we’re good right now doesn’t mean you’re going to be good in the future.”
One of the things he said he’s been able to lean on has the been team’s senior leadership. Pitt has two sixth-year seniors in linebacker John Petrishen and wide receiver Tre Tipton, plus 14 other redshirt seniors and four true seniors, including offensive captain Kenny Pickett.
In some ways, Pitt’s strong start in virus prevention might also be tied to the team’s strong start on the field. With a low number of positive cases throughout training camp and into the start of the season, Pitt hasn’t gotten into situations where they had to deviate from their usual practice routine or put players in positions on game day that they’re not already comfortable with.
“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve stayed away from that, and I just hope it continues,” Narduzzi said while knocking on his wooden podium. “Again, it’s the kids. They’ve got to do it. They’ve got to want it. And I talk every week about how they have to earn the right to play another game, and we’ve got to earn the right this week to play No. 4.”