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Opinion

Vukovcan: Lookout for Pat Narduzzi and Pitt in 2021

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In 59 days, real college football will return to Heinz Field when Pitt hosts UMass in the 2021 season opener.

After having to play through all of the adversity and challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought, all signs point to everything returning to normal this coming football season.

While things will appear to be back to normal, this year fans will witness something that they won’t be used to.

The Pitt Panthers will live up to and in my opinion, exceed expectations that are being set for them.

That’s right. This will be the year that Pitt doesn’t play down to competition, will win some games they’re not supposed to and get fans to stop complaining about a Pat Narduzzi team underachieving.

Pitt fans have been seemingly hearing this forever. What will make this year different than seasons in the past? Experienced depth, legit young talent and star power.

Sometimes it’s hard for fans to realize and understand this but it takes time to build a program. Adding real quality depth doesn’t just happen in a couple seasons. Although that’s what many want, that’s not reality for most college football programs, especially ones like Pitt. It’s talked about many times and it’s true but when you fire a coach, your program gets torn down and has to rebuild.

That’s what’s happened at Pitt and Narduzzi has the team in as good a place as it’s been in for many, many years.

Want some examples of that? Despite having six players go in the 2021 NFL Draft and other talented players graduate, the Panthers won’t be in a rebuild mode because of the talent that is behind those departed players on the depth chart.

Despite losing players on the defensive line like Rashad Weaver and Patrick Jones, the Pitt defensive line won’t miss a beat because of players like John Morgan, Habakkuk Baldonado, Deslin Alexandre and Nate Temple. In the secondary, Damar Hamlin, Paris Ford and Jason Pinnock were tremendous performers and leaders but the future looks bright because of young talent like Brandon Hill, Rashad Battle, MJ Devonshire and veterans such as Damarri Mathis and Marquis Williams.

Credit goes to Narduzzi and his staff for quietly stacking some really good recruiting classes that allows them to have this depth.

This shouldn’t be a one or two year thing because young players like Branson Taylor, Aydin Henningham, Jahvante Royal, Dayon Hayes, Solomon DeShields, Bangally Kamara, Naquan Brown, Elliot Donald, Khalil Anderson and Nahki Johnson are entering the program and will soon be knocking on the door looking to make a major impact.

The biggest reason this years Pitt team will be different from those in the recent past is because they have a star at the most important position.

For the first time in his Pitt career, quarterback Kenny Pickett has legitimate talent surrounding him and everything is in place for him to have a great final year in college. Pickett has a star wide receiver in Jordan Addison, has a player that I believe will become a star in Jaylon Barden, finally has a legit weapon at tight end with NFL potential in Lucas Krull and plenty of other playmakers like Jared Wayne, Shocky Jacques-Louis and Melquise Stovall.

The biggest development this past offseason was Pickett deciding to return to play another season of college football. This decision will not only improve Pickett’s NFL stock but it also will enable Pitt to have their best season during the Narduzzi era.

Going through the Pitt starting lineup on both offensive and defense, I struggle to find a true weakness. If I had to point out one thing, it would be the development of the offensive line which struggled in 2020. I believe they have enough talent and will turn things around this season and the experience they gained last year will be invaluable.

In his first six seasons at Pitt, Narduzzi’s teams have finished with three 8 win seasons. Fans have wanted more and will get that as the Panthers will have their first 9 win season since 2009.

The faith that Heather Lyke and the Pitt administration have shown in Narduzzi will be rewarded this season as Pitt takes that “next step” in the rise of their football program.

Get ready, Panther fans. This is your two month warning.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Justin Dietrich
Justin Dietrich
20 days ago

The “time” it takes is 3-4 recruiting cycles. Duzz has had more than 3-4 classes. Anything short of double digit wins this season is a failure…

Eli
Eli
20 days ago

Their offensive line hasn’t been able to run block…really at all the past couple seasons, even against bad teams. They would need to get significantly better in that regard before I share any real sense of optimism. I don’t see it as terribly likely, though.

Justin Dietrich
Justin Dietrich
19 days ago
Reply to  Eli

Haven’t really had any decent RBs or play calling during that time either…

Mtgj
Mtgj
20 days ago

The offensive line is the key to the year. If they can come together and prove to be an above average line then I think this Pitt team has a chance to be the best in a long time.
I share your optimism and believe that Pitt will play some very important games that will have national implications, Let’s just hope they can win them

L|R
L|R
20 days ago

Agree with you Vukovcan..we do have players and depth. However, in addition to the same you need coaches making the right decisions during game time. For this reason, we will never be a 10 or 9 win team. Defense Cord does not know when to play it safe and the Grandpa running the offense makes even more questionable calls.

James from Florida
James from Florida
20 days ago
Reply to  L|R

Remember this name BRENNAN MARION, he will greatly influence the play calling this season and he is the future OC at Pitt.

They will win 10 games with this squad, no issues with the defense, if you recall the 2020 offense put them in some bad situations. The defense will be strong and the offense will be vastly improved.

Section 122
Section 122
20 days ago

Can you really call it “complaining” if Narduzzi has underachieved? It’s more just stating a fact than complaining.

TMG
TMG
20 days ago

I sure hope the OL has been getting one heck of a lot stronger. Just saying, they had zero push in the run and we’re bullied by Clemson, ND, Miami, and just about everyone else and in the pass game Kenny P was running for his life. I haven’t been hearing much about Borbely improving their potential. I hope they’ve improved

Christopher Mumola
Christopher Mumola
19 days ago

It’s all about finishing drives with touchdowns, not field goals. During the Pickett era, this has been a consistent struggle. When he had a pair of bruising backs in Hall and Ollison, they could put the ball in the end zone and they won the Coastal. When it’s been on Kenny to throw TD passes – even in games where he’s posted big yardage – he has shown he can’t consistently produce. Unless that suddenly changes very late in his college career, they will continue to keep teams they should beat in every game. Which is exactly how they went… Read more »

Giovanni
Giovanni
17 days ago

Pickett will be a complete player IF he can figure out how to throw an accurate long ball — and do so consistently. He’s otherwise got plenty of all of the other tools to be a top-level QB. Of course, having a solid O-line and an improved OC will also be imperative. Hopefully, Marion positively influences the OC…

Aye Yo
Aye Yo
19 days ago

Pitt football’s song for recruiting “Diamond in the Rough”

Last edited 19 days ago by Aye Yo
kevin
kevin
19 days ago

I hope you’re right!!! Most people don’t realize how many games are decided by just a few key plays. Most teams are very closely matched, and they just need a few breaks to go their way. Even the best teams need some luck to squeak by a few nail biters.

I do think the OL is the key this year. We need to run the ball better and give QB time to throw the ball. Our DBs also need help from the safeties at key times too. They are put on islands WAY too often!
H2P!

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