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Ball-Hawking Pitt Defense Wants to Lead the Country in Turnovers



PITTSBURGH — In college football training camp, everything is a double-edged sword for a head coach.

Every good play from one side of the ball is largely accompanied by one or more several poor plays on the other side. Every long bomb for a score is a blown coverage, every big sack is a missed block and even a solid tackle comes with having to hope that the offensive player is uninjured.

There’s probably no area of the game that both sides of the ball want to focus more on than turnovers, and so when one area of the team is dominating in that regard, it can either be a very good sign — or a very poor one.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi is hoping that his defense’s recent run of pilferage is a strong sign, as it was last season, when the Panthers were tied for 40th nationally with 1.7 takeaways per game.

“We had a few turnovers on offense (Tuesday),” Narduzzi said on Wednesday morning before practice. “We have to eliminated them. It’s critical that we don’t turn the ball over on offense. Defensively, we’ve got to get them. I think our defensive guys are doing a good job of testing our offense, trying to get the ball out.”

That came on Tuesday in the form of forced fumbles from Habakkuk Baldonado and Phil Campbell III. But Narduzzi doesn’t want that to become a trend.

“The focus is to not do that two days in a row,” he said.

Unfortunately, it did. Safety Erick Hallett had a pick six in practice Wednesday and defensive tackle DeAndre Jules forced a fumble, according to end John Morgan.

That defensive success may have come from some new drills the team is doing this season, with the defense working under the supervision of new linebackers coach and NFL veteran Ryan Manalac on a ball-punching drill that seems to be producing results.

That’s Morgan in No. 6 toward the end, delivering a blow that dislodged the ball from fellow end Nate Temple and elicited a “Goddamn, John” in response from the younger player.

“We’ve been trying to punch that ball out,” Morgan said after practice. “Working on turnover drills, that’s one of our main focuses, how to lead the country in turnovers this year.”

If they do that, then Panthers will certainly remain ahead of the game in turnover margin, even if Narduzzi frets about what it means for his offense.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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