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Pitt Football

Saunders: Win over Tennessee Shows Value of What Pat Narduzzi Has Brought to Pitt

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — All of the good things about Pitt football under Pat Narduzzi were on display on Saturday as the Panthers earned their first road win against a Power Five non-conference opponent in 13 years.

Some of the bad things were too, but the combination of the two still worked in favor of the Panthers.

Let’s start with Kenny Pickett, the super senior Pitt quarterback that turned down an almost certain NFL opportunity to come back to play at Pitt, wanting to stay and work on his craft with Narduzzi and Mark Whipple instead of entering the 2021 NFL Draft.

If the results from Pickett’s first real game of 2021 (sorry UMass) are anything like what the rest of the season will be like, he made a very good financial decision, as he’s looking at a large uptick in draft standing after performing nearly flawlessly in front of NFL scouts Saturday.

But lots of players — and maybe even most players — in Pickett’s situation don’t make that call. Or even get as far as Pickett did in Pitt’s program. Narduzzi stuck with Pickett after a sophomore slump in 2019, never wavered from the young man as Pitt’s starting quarterback, and now Pickett has returned that favor as a super senior.

It didn’t take but a long look to the opposite sideline on Saturday to see how rare that kind of stability and big-picture view from both players and coaches is rare in college football these days, as the Tennessee Volunteers took the field with former Michigan quarterback Joe Milton III and former Virginia Tech signal caller Hendon Hooker.

At Pitt, Narduzzi has built a culture of stability, with not only players like Pickett eschewing an early NFL future to return to the team, but also through the transfer portal, where the Panthers have among the fewest departures of any Power Five school while successfully mining for starters and contributors from other schools.

Pitt is recruiting better under Pat Narduzzi than it did under his immediate predecessors, both in the rankings and in beating the rankings. Pickett was a three-star. Hooker and Milton were four-stars. Which one would you rather have? That goes up and down the lineup, as three-star players like Haba Baldonado, Cam Bright, Phil Campbell, Calijah Kancey, John Morgan and Jared Wayne have become all-conference-level contributors for the Panthers.

Players want to play for Narduzzi and his staff. They sign up to go to Pitt, they get better while they’re there, and they stick around as long as they can. That’s how you build up a college football program.

Not everything about Saturday was perfect. Pitt lacked execution on special teams, couldn’t run the ball, mangled the play-calling on offense at times, and looked suspect in the secondary, even if the Vols could never take full advantage. A lot of that can be attributed to coaching in some way, shape or form.

Josh Heupel is a better tactician than Narduzzi is. If they switched quarterbacks, Tennessee would have probably won by two scores. But in college football, X’s and O’s and gameday management are only a part of the job. The head coach is also head scout, head of player development and the head of the culture of the program.

Those things are just as hard — and probably harder — to develop than the proper scheme to defeat a certain attack or knowing when to go for it on fourth down.

Pitt football has absolutely zero structural advantages over Tennessee. The Panthers play in a worse conference, in a worse part of the country for developing high-level players, in a smaller venue that’s worse for college football, and is a more-strenuous academic institution.

Yet, because of Narduzzi’s development of players, people like Pickett sticking around, and Tennessee going through the transfer portal version of a clearance sale after the hiring of Heupel, Pitt was the more-talented team on the field.

The Panthers were able to win on Saturday because the development, culture and stability of their program became their recruiting advantage. That’s Narduzzi’s biggest accomplishment at Pitt.

Try to keep that in mind while tearing your hair out at the play calling.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Robert
Robert
2 days ago

Confused. First win over power five opponent in 13 years? Didn’t we beat Penn St? Or do you mean road win?

Send it in !
Send it in !
2 days ago
Reply to  Robert

He missed Pitt beating #13 Va Tech and #24 Notre Dame as well. And Pitt beat SEC Kentucky in a Bowl as well as ND a 2nd time and UNC in a Bowl game. Also beat ND on the road, as well as Iowa on the road. All within the last 13 years. So he’s way way off.

Tom DiPasquale
Tom DiPasquale
2 days ago

Alan I think you captured both sides here. Yes, He’s done a great job getting player buy-in and he’s recruited well but there are so many defensive breakdowns, even against UMass the week prior. It’s year 7 and defensively they really need to tighten it up. That’s on the HC. There are too many substitutions and dumb timeouts. Yes there are many positives for the program and yet he’s got a lot of work to do on game day if you ask me. I think he deserves credit, but also some scrutiny–the past 6 seasons have brought a ton of… Read more »

Tom DiPasquale
Tom DiPasquale
2 days ago
Reply to  Tom DiPasquale

Additionally, you mentioned transfers into the program. Narduzzi automatically puts those transfers right up onto the starting lineup, and many times these transfers aren’t any good at all. Look at Joey Yellen as an example but there are many others. Awful, yet he got two starts over Patti and Beville last year. Now he’s 4th string (Which is where he belongs). There are numerous others, Flanigan, Gragg, etc

Send it in !
Send it in !
2 days ago
Reply to  Tom DiPasquale

Yellen only played because Kenny was hurt. Nard has picked up some good transfers as well. The 2 WR’s come to mind. Tasir Mack of Indiana & DJ Turner of Maryland. And this year we got John Petrishen from Penn State who made a key goal line tackle against the Vols. And Nate Peterman of Tennessee transferred in and he was great !

Smljf
Smljf
2 days ago
Reply to  Send it in !

We know Pickett was hurt – the issue is that Patti and Beville are better than him. He should have never played last season.

Ken
Ken
2 days ago
Reply to  Tom DiPasquale

Why would he “automatically puts those transfers right into the starting lineup?” Its happened a few times, but its because the staff thought they were the best option at the time. If he prioritized transfers over guys already there, and they weren’t as good, tons of players would be leaving. And their not.
I’m sure Yellen looked to be best in practice, and so they went with him. If Patti would’ve been better, then they made a mistake, but not because of a preference for transfers.

Rich J
Rich J
2 days ago

If Narduzzi is such a good Coach why does the line suck every year and so many blown assignments in the secondary every game. If the Vol’s had a decent QB Pitt would have lost.

Troy Lee
Troy Lee
2 days ago
Reply to  Rich J

I feel the same way
Kenny Pickett and his ability to just scramble, since no WRs ever get open, are the only things keeping Narduzzi in Pittsburgh
I have no idea why they can’t run the ball, even when they had Ollison and Evans it was annoying watching them blow it vs the same teams year in and year out

TheDL
TheDL
2 days ago
Reply to  Troy Lee

Come on guy…..Evans????

Jeff
Jeff
2 days ago
Reply to  TheDL

Evans was the shiznit. 😂

Sam Acquista
Sam Acquista
2 days ago

Peterman was Narduzzi’s first big transfer get. He’s better than Pickett. And Matt Canada is 10x the play college play-caller Mark Whipple ever was. This is what Narduzzi is. I like the stability that he has brought. In the ACC he’ll do just fine. Win the Coastal once every 4 or 5 years. Win 3 bowl games every 6 years. That’s about all Pitt can hope for. It’s not 1976 anymore. Pitt will not win another national title.

Clark Martineau
Clark Martineau
2 days ago

I can’t believe all the whining here. I’m going to enjoy being 2 and 0 and pretty soon 4-0.
Hail to Pitt!

Troy Lee
Troy Lee
2 days ago

Because Narduzzi does this every year…Pickett saves the day and he stays another year
He was supposed to be a defensive genius but of course let a (former) VT QB look like Tyrod Taylor

Pat Adonizio
Pat Adonizio
2 days ago

He had Voytik and Dinucci whom he didn’t stay with and others. He hit the transfer portal long before it was in vogue…hats off to Whippel who seems to be adding a sense of stability to qb spot and offensive system.

JOSEPH D CESSAR
JOSEPH D CESSAR
1 day ago

Nice article. Many good points about Narduzzi. I was frustrated last year, but I like the stability he brings and the overall direction of the program. He needs to beat Miami this year.

Against Tennessee, Pitt did establish the running game on the last drive to run out the clock after the interception. It looked like they wore down Tennessee.

Duquesne BB

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