Pitt’s bright start to the 2020 season crumbled on Saturday, with an upset to loss to NC State ending hopes of the Panthers greatly exceeding expectations in Pat Narduzzi’s sixth season.
After a 3-0 start, a national ranking and the attention that comes with it, Narduzzi said after Saturday’s debacle that his players might have failed to meet the challenge of being able to deal with some success.
“Sometimes, the best medicine is really to get humbled, as far as who you are and what you do and just remember how you got where you are,” Narduzzi said on Saturday. “And I think that’s the big thing. Whether we came in too confident, thinking we can stop anybody and no one can get a first down, we had maybe one three-and-out in the first half.”
Pitt’s fanbase has already run the gamut from euphoria to pessimism, but Pitt’s players don’t have that option. After failing to meet the challenging of handling success in advance of the NC State game, it will be a totally different challenge this week, as the Panthers will need to stop the disappointment over Saturday’s loss from wrecking the rest of their season, as well.
“If you win or lose, you have 24 hours to look at the game, fix what you need to fix and then you’ve got to flush it and you move on to the next week,” starting quarterback Kenny Pickett said after the game on Saturday. “So BC is on the clock. So really, I’m just focused on you know, learning [Sunday], figuring out what we did wrong and then moving forward.”
When it came to that team meeting on Sunday, as Pitt reviewed the tape of Saturday’s loss, Narduzzi sensed an appropriate, and perhaps surprising, amount of understanding when it comes to the severity of how crippling it was to Pitt’s chances of having a successful season.
“I think it hit our kids in the stomach like, what just happened [Saturday], and sometimes you need a wake-up call to find out really what’s real, what’s fake, who do you listen to,” Narduzzi said on Monday. “I think sometimes you listen to the outside noise and it can affect you.
“But I think our guys learned. Like I said, quietest meeting I’ve been in, focused, locked in, so I like where we are after that loss. If a loss can be good for you, I think it’s going to be good for us. We’ll see how we respond.”
The response will need to come quickly. While this week’s mental challenge is a 180-degree switch from the success high of a 3-0 start, the Eagles represent a team that can take advantage of some of the same things the Wolfpack did in their win over Pitt.
Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec is another talented passer with underrated mobility and his line gives him plenty of time to throw, while the BC defense has taken strides under first-year head coach and former Pitt assistant Jeff Hafley.
“I feel like as a team, of course, we all are disappointed about how the game turned out Saturday,” redshirt senior wide receiver DJ Turner said on Tuesday. “I just feel like we’re all ready to bounce back, just do whatever we can to get this win on the road and get this season back on track the way we had it.”
While the exact same track is no longer possible, as Pitt’s first 4-0 start since 2000 has slipped through the Panthers’ grasp, the upward trajectory that Pitt showed is possible to be regained. A win over the Eagles would have Pitt sitting at 4-1 entering a crucial stretch of their schedule, with games at No. 7 Miami and at home against No. 5 Notre Dame in the following two weeks.
Pitt’s success or failure in those games, along with their trip to No. 1 Clemson later in the season, will have a far greater impact in the way the 2020 season ends up viewed with hindsight.
“Nobody cares what you did last week,” Narduzzi said. “It’s all what you do this week.”