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Pitt Football

Finding Ways to Grow from Thursday’s ‘S*****’ Performance Against the Run

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Some synonyms for “s*****” are infuriating, exasperating, terrible, embarrassing and perhaps most fittingly, crappy.

West Virginia ran for 190 yards against Pitt Thursday night, racking up nearly six yards per rush attempt, and one of the words head coach Pat Narduzzi used to sum up Pitt’s season-opening win was s*****. It’s a good problem to have if a poor performance is still a season-opening win.

“But you know, I think handling success this week, when you kind of played s***** — let’s just put it that way — I think it makes it a little bit easier,” Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “How about that? If they can get excited about that, then good for them. You didn’t see me dancing around in the locker room, okay, and there will be no dancing.”

Narduzzi pointed the finger at himself. When Pitt plays s*****, it starts at the very top with himself. It’s a trickle-down effect, and it’s not something that happens at an individual level. The “We Not Me” motto accompanies everything Pitt football does, and despite a heavy dose of adversity at times Thursday, the team as a whole pulled out a crucial early season win.

“We’ve talked a lot for eight years on handling success and handling adversity,” Narduzzi said. “I think our guys are used to handling adversity every day. They deal with it. We handled adversity well Saturday. We hung in there all the way for 60 minutes. Handling success is always a problem. It’s always the biggest issue you’ll have on a football team. The hardest thing people have in life is handling it.”

Perhaps the harshest adversity Pitt faced Thursday night was a typically stout run defense forced back against the ropes. WVU ran at will at times, especially true freshman CJ Donaldson, and it made Narduzzi ‘hot’ in the aftermath of the game. The run defense is Pitt’s bread and butter, and when WVU hammered Pitt’s steel shield, he had to take a look in the mirror.

Pitt’s defensive scheme Thursday was perhaps a bit too all-encompassing. Narduzzi went back and looked over practice tape from the week leading up to the Backyard Brawl. There were 371 snaps of base defense, and when he compared what Pitt called Thursday night, he saw a lot of wasted time.

“I think sometimes for openers you can have too much in because you’re not sure what you’re going to get, and I think defensively it started with having too many things in that you’re worried about,” Narduzzi said. “What if they do this? What if they do that? We’d better have that in. We’d better have this in. We’d better have some of this, too. You’ve got to have a flavor of everything in, and sometimes you put too many flavors in, you’re going to have a problem. I think that’s part of it.”

Narduzzi remarked upon, “How annoying it is when someone can run the ball.” With Pitt’s propensity for stopping the run, the main purpose of Narduzzi’s defensive scheme, when a team is actually able to run the ball, opposing offenses become much, much more difficult to stop — as evidenced against WVU.

While Narduzzi said that WVU made some plays Thursday night, his defense helped to allow such success. Mental processing, poor fits and poor alignment all contributed. There was hesitancy that comes from being the first game of the season.

“If you don’t get lined up perfectly, it’s a problem,” Narduzzi said. “So, just a lack of detail in what we’re doing, and sometimes that happens in openers. I talked to a couple of guys who were like, ‘Coach, it’s a lot different than practice.’ Yeah, it is, but you’ve got to make it the same.”

Without a familiarity in playing WVU, with no games over the last 11 years and without playing a Neal Brown-led squad in the meantime, it was a completely new task to scheme and game plan for WVU’s offense. Narduzzi feels like it’ll be different when Tennessee comes to town.

Pitt traveled to Leyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee last season, and with matchups against Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel’s UCF squads in 2018 and 2019, and Narduzzi feels like the familiarity helps. It will be the fourth time Pitt has faced that style of offense and defense, even if it’s with two different teams.

“I think that helps you a ton of knowing what you’re going to get, what you do need, don’t need, what you’ve got to be ready for, and you always want to have enough in in case they do something different,” Narduzzi said. “But I just feel like we practiced too much of stuff which doesn’t give your kids an opportunity to be cleaner.”

While Thursday’s game may have been “s*****”, it was still a win. Pitt is 1-0 and staring down a ranked matchup at home against Tennessee. There’s a path forward, and Narduzzi sees it. It’s up to himself and the team to implement change now.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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