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Pitt Football

Five Takeaways: Pat Narduzzi’s Defensive Scheme Just Isn’t Working

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PITTSBURGH —  There have been plenty of problems with Pat Narduzzi’s tenure as Pitt’s head coach.

There’s been a complete and total inability to win all of the games on their schedule that they should win, generally poor offensive coordinator hires, a lack of cogent in game decision making strategy. I could go on and on. But while none of those things have been positives for Narduzzi’s tenure at Pitt, none of them were the reasons he was hired at Pitt, either. 

Narduzzi was hired because he was an elite defensive coordinator at Michigan State, and even though there have been two men under him that have held the title of defensive coordinator at Pitt, the defense that Narduzzi brought with him from East Lansing is the one the Panthers play to this day. 

The biggest problem with Narduzzi’s tenure at Pitt, is that defense, the one that made Narduzzi famous at MSU and got him the Pitt job, hasn’t worked. 

I’ve covered this in this space before, but the concept of Pitt’s defense is that it will stop the run, pressure the quarterback and give the cornerbacks a chance to win with physicality on the outside. 

If the outside corners get beat deep, and the pass rush doesn’t get home, most college quarterbacks don’t complete deep passes with enough regularity to make Pitt really pay for that trade-off. 

For Narduzzi at Michigan State, it mostly worked. But the combination of changes in college offenses and the move to the more pass-happy ACC has made it significantly less effective with the Panthers. 

On Saturday, Western Michigan torched Pitt for 44 points and 517 yards. But the Broncos weren’t the first. 

In the time that Narduzzi has been at Pitt, an average defensive performance holds the opposition under 400 yards. A poor defensive performance, at about the 25th percentile of results, allows more than 430 yards.

In six years and three games, 31 opponents have topped the 400-yard mark against Pitt’s defense, and the Saturday was the seventh time a non-Power Five team did it, joining Eastern Michigan (2019), Navy (2015), UCF (2019 and 2018) and Youngstown State (2017 and 2015). Outside of UCF, that’s not exactly a who’s who of lower-level college football. 

It was also the 12th time Pitt’s defense gave up over 500 yards under Narduzzi, averaging just under twice a season. 

While there are some world-beating offenses in that realm, such as Clemson and Oklahoma State twice each, Pitt has given up more than 500 yards to Navy in 2015, a 4-8 Syracuse team in both 2016 and 2017, Duke in 2018. Others have been close to that mark. In 2018, 2-9 North Carolina put up 486. In 2017, 5-6 Georgia Tech raced for 484.

Essentially, at least one a year, Narduzzi’s defense gets pasted by a mediocre offense. 

It isn’t a talent problem. Pitt has had nine defensive players drafted into the NFL since Narduzzi arrived, with at least four of them on the team every year until this one. Haba Baldonado, Calijah Kancey and company will likely keep that going.

This might not be the most talented defense Narduzzi has had, but it’s talented enough. Pitt didn’t line up against the Broncos with a talent deficit at any single position on the field on Saturday. But even the 2020 defense, with all those players headed to the NFL, still got gashed, and not just by Clemson and Notre Dame, but by Virginia Tech, as well.

Of course, this isn’t a new problem, either. This is something that has been going for a while now, and there has been no substantive adjustment to the way Pitt does business. Don’t believe me? Ask Western Michigan coach Tim Lester, who was offensive coordinator at Syracuse way back in 2015.

“I’ve watched that game three hundred times this week and where they’re going to come and how they’re going to be and what variety of matchups we’re going to need to keep the safety off balance,” Lester said.

Later he said of his offense, “they knew exactly what they were going to get.”

Pitt has been playing basically the same scheme with some minor variations for over six years now. It’s pretty clear that it isn’t working. They lost because Narduzzi and his defensive staff got out-coached, and he admitted as much.

“It starts with the coaches,” Narduzzi said. “We obviously didn’t do — we got out-coached today, and we’ve got to do a better job.”

The first step solving a problem is recognizing there is one.

There are more things to take away from that game. Kenny Pickett remains tough as nails and the best Pitt quarterback in 30 years. Jordan Addison, Jared Wayne and Lucas Krull all have star potential on offense. Pitt’s offense scored more than 40 points in three straight games to start the season for the first time ever. Ever! But it’s hard to feel good about any of that when the defense can’t get a stop when it needs to against Western Michigan.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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John Ramella
John Ramella
29 days ago

Bates made an adjustment in the 2nd quarter and they slowed WMU – only score was the short field. He came out in the second half in base defense and well… #31 got abused (again). #31 doesn’t belong on the field, period.

Jeff
Jeff
29 days ago
Reply to  John Ramella

Pat Bostick made the same point about the brief adjustment. Pat also seem baffled as to why they went away from that adjustment like the rest of us.

Tom DiPasquale
Tom DiPasquale
29 days ago
Reply to  John Ramella

31 is a disgrace. Probably a nice kid, and I feel guilty saying it, but he’s an absolute defensive liability. I noticed watching replays from last years games on ACC network over the summer. He’s gotten beat repeatedly and also misses tackle after tackle. Stubborn Narduzzi won’t acknowledge it…

Class of ' 69
Class of ' 69
29 days ago

The kid from Perry commits to Kentucky. The kid from Chartiers Valley commits to PSU . does even consider Pitt. Narduzzi can’t keep the local kids home. Time for him and Heather to go!

kevin
kevin
29 days ago
Reply to  Class of ' 69

I agree, it’s time to go. He’s NEVER going to change his defense. And now he has to go outside Pittsburgh to recruit. He still thinks hiding injuries, blaming refs, and trying to trick other coaches is how to win games. It isn’t!!!! We have a great Qb and decent offense but can’t win if we have to score every drive.
I hope we can find a good coach this time!

PittBand
PittBand
27 days ago
Reply to  kevin

You think Alabama recruits just the state? They had a qb from Honolulu. In the NFL at last check.
BTW, who do you propose to replace coach? Bear Bryant, Amos Alonzo Stagg????
The state schools have a lot more money to throw at coaches. It’s a fact of life.
Saturday’s game was WMU’s college football bowl. They played like it. Congratulations to their offensive line, they were fantastic.

PittBand
PittBand
27 days ago
Reply to  Class of ' 69

Did you ever think that maybe this isn’t the NFL draft where players don’t get to decide their future. 17 – 18 year old kids are made fantastic promises to commit to a football program. PS offers a 100,000+ crowd. Devonshire committed to Kentucky and where is he?
Now that kids aren’t wrapped up for years and can test a program and get out, I predict transfers will replace high school commitments as how programs will be built.

Jeff
Jeff
29 days ago

This is a fantastic article Alan. I truly believe you nailed it in summing up the issues with pinpoint, satellite guided accuracy with this piece. Really hit the nail squarely on the head. 👍

Krackerjack Kid
Krackerjack Kid
29 days ago

Excellent article. It hits all the needed points. Well done.

Steven
Steven
29 days ago

PITT running game has been straight up trash. They have a true freshman that can Change the Running Game instantly and PITT knows he is the best but won’t utilize him. How can you have a true freshman that has consistently destroyed the running game since he first touched a football. Over 15 years of consistency. He didn’t earn the name SHOWTIME for nothing. PITT there is a reason he is called Showtime!!!!

Send it in !
Send it in !
29 days ago
Reply to  Steven

I’m guessing that is Rodney Hammond. He needs to get 20 touches vs New Hamp.

Vicsbean
Vicsbean
28 days ago
Reply to  Steven

They are saving him. Redshirt. So we are great in 2025

Richard Johnson
Richard Johnson
28 days ago
Reply to  Steven

This kid is not going to change anything. The O-Line is terrible. # 57 has been there 4 years at least and is trash the whole line has been terrible since the other Coach left for Wisconsin and his recruits graduated. Every year Narduzzi stands at the podium hyping the fans about his recruiting class and every year is the same result. I as a lifelong Pitt fan have had enough of this Charlatan get rid of him!!

Send it in !
Send it in !
29 days ago

Nodoze’s D worked in the B1G, before RPO became the most popular offense and the B1G didn’t have very many good QB’s and Michigan sucked. Plus a couple of those good years for MSU, they were in the western division and Wisconsin, OSU & PSU were in the Eastern division. When MSU played a RPO in the Cotton Bowl, Baylor put up 600 yards passing. That was more than a hint.

Paul Donohoe
29 days ago
Reply to  Send it in !

Good points all. The RPO exposes this defense consistently.

Everyone seems to know this except Duzzi.

A good opposing QB, like Elegy, who played a great game, can’t be stopped.

They need a complete overhaul – immediately. If not sooner. Try it out next Week before the start of ACC play. If not, Pat may go down as the most stubborn man as n Pitt history, a joke if he doesn’t change in a major way. The coach has no cloths moment.

Jeff
Jeff
29 days ago

The Pat Narduzzi and Pitt Football Twitter accounts haven’t put out any tweets so far today. I wonder why lol? 😂

Vicsbean
Vicsbean
28 days ago
Reply to  Jeff

Really. I did not notice. Maybe it’s because I unfollowed them all. Peace and quiet I rather watch paint dry

Eli
Eli
29 days ago

Randy Bates needs to stage an intervention.

Jeff
Jeff
29 days ago

I’ve decided to usurp Heather Lyke’s powers and become the unofficial athletic director at Pitt. My unofficial interview process begins with Joe Moorhead. I think I can get him to agree to my unofficial contract. We need to replace the Crisp Pickles 97 Head Football Coach as soon as possible.

Vicsbean
Vicsbean
28 days ago

I refuse to watch the post game bull shit. The four of us decided no more agonizing this year, and maybe never again. Last year a friend of mine from Greenfield and his brother gave up club seats they had for 24 years. They tailgated Gold 1. He told me Saturday morning he does not even miss the bull shit. Pitt social media is out. I unfollowed. I am not playing games. I refuse to watch post game interviews. Why would I

Mark Recker
Mark Recker
28 days ago
Reply to  Vicsbean

24 years huh? This is the 20 year anniversary for Heinz Field & there were no club seats at Pitt Stadium so your Greenfield pals are delusional.

Duquesne WBB

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