It’s hard to take too much from a Week 1 opener against an FCS opponent, no matter how highly Pat Narduzzi praises Wofford following the Pitt win, but there are still lessons to be learned from the effort.
“Great team win,” Narduzzi said at his weekly press conference Monday. “Obviously the offense did a great job holding on to the ball and sustaining drives. I think 41 minutes time of possession. Defense only had 36 plays. It was a little scrimmage for them, I guess. Should be fresh for this week, practice, and for game days.
“Just good stuff. Then obviously we get into Cincinnati week, which we turned our focus last night after the team meeting, and (get ready to face a) really good Cincinnati team.”
Narduzzi touched upon a few points from the Wofford game ahead of Cincinnati this weekend.
Helping Out Caleb Junko
Caleb Junko punted just twice against Wofford, a couple of nice boots that resulted in a 46 yards per punt average, but his net average took a major hit due to some suspect special teams work.
After Pitt’s first offensive possession stalled out just across midfield, Junko’s punt bounced once at the 10, once at the 5 and wound up in the end zone. The young, inexperienced Ryland Gandy and Donovan McMillon didn’t play the punt correctly. Wofford could’ve been pinned inside the 2-yard line.
Instead, the Terriers started at the 25-yard line.
“I mean, I’ll start with the real obvious is making sure that our gunners when they go down on punt team, Caleb Junko had a great day, but we ruined his day by squandering an opportunity to have him downed inside the 5-yard line at least,” Narduzzi said Monday.
“But just going back and getting better at that. That’ll get cleaned up immediately. Got cleaned up last night, and hopefully, they get it.”
Of course, Gandy and McMillon aren’t like Tre Tipton, who Narduzzi lauded as perhaps the best gunner he’s had during his time at Pitt, but they’ll learn and grow with further reps.
“We’ve just got to get back to that,” Narduzzi said. “That’s just one major thing that turned into a major play in my opinion, and we lost 25 yards of net punt.”
Junko appears to have Pitt in a much, much more secure spot punting the ball this season. Now it’s down to the gunners to help him get it down.
A Slight Change at Kick Returner
A.J. Woods took his first kick return of the season for a 17-yard gain, choosing to take it out of the end zone after Wofford scored late in the fourth quarter, and it was not the play that Pat Narduzzi nor Andre Powell would’ve made.
But he is going to be Pitt’s lead kick returner for the time being.
“He should have fair caught that one in the end zone, so I don’t know what he did to earn it or lose it, one or the other,” Narduzzi said. “But we’ll have a conversation with A.J.
“He’s just been consistent. He can run. You’ve seen him take interceptions back (nearly) for touchdowns in championship games. Just a guy that we trust back there.”
Bub Means was initially announced as Pitt’s starting kick returner, but after Narduzzi and Powell went back and thought about it, they decided that it was probably best for Means to just play wide receiver right now. It wasn’t worth the risk to have him take kicks.
But Pitt does have other options. Narduzzi pointed to Che Nwabuko, Zion Fowler-El and Izzy Polk while Powell pointed to Nwabuko and Konata Mumpfield at the end of camp. I’d imagine Mumpfield is in the same boat as Means.
Nwabuko, who received his first collegiate snaps last week against Wofford, took his first carry for 24 yards. He’s young but intriguing at kick returner.
“You may see changes there, too,” Narduzzi said. “Who knows?”
The Defensive Line Will Continue to Rotate
Deandre Jules and Devin Danielson started Saturday against Wofford, but as both have said before and after the game, no one knows who will be starting until the final walkthrough right before the game.
“We do a good job — those guys are all — I could give you a bunch of ‘OR’s right there,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t know if there are ‘OR’s on it or not, but it could be Jules or Devin or (Tyler) Bentley. There’s a lot of ‘OR’s there. We’ve got four or five guys in there that are ‘OR’s and that doesn’t mean we don’t know who it’s going to be. That means it could be either-or, just like Marquis (Williams) and A.J. (Woods) and (M.J. Devonshire).”
Jules put in a breakout performance against Wofford, showcasing exactly why he was praised so highly all summer, but it’s not a guarantee that he starts against Cincinnati. David Green is a captain, and he didn’t ‘start’ against Wofford. Jules, Danielson, Green and Bentley are the top four, interchangeably so, and Narduzzi sees them all the same way.
“The ‘OR’s mean they’re all starters,” Narduzzi said. “We’re all good with all of them, but I’ve got to put something on there, so they don’t look like a backup, I guess.”
Keep Phil Jurkovec (and Christian Veilleux) Clean
Pitt has two pretty well-defined offensive line units right now.
Matt Goncalves, Jason Collier Jr., Jake Kradel, Blake Zubovic and Branson Taylor took just about every offensive snap with Phil Jurkovec, and Ryan Baer, BJ Williams, Terrence Moore, Dorien Ford and Terrence Enos Jr. took just about every snap with Christian Veilleux.
And Narduzzi, all in all, was pretty pleased with what he saw from the offensive linemen as a whole.
“They played solid,” Narduzzi said. “We rushed for whatever we rushed for. What did we rush for, 200-something yards? 217? Gave up one sack, which the linebacker came off the edge, and Gavin — we’ve just got to do a better job coaching. I would put it more on coaching than on Gavin, but Gavin — the guy he was blocking on the edge, sort of a gap protection, went inside. He could have let it go and then picked up the backer.”
The sack in question, on Pitt’s first offensive possession of the afternoon, also wasn’t helped by Jurkovec standing in the pocket as the rush reached him. Regardless, Narduzzi felt like the offensive line kept the quarterback clean all day.
The offensive line didn’t have much of a chance to showcase its cohesion, but that is going to change against Cincinnati’s stout defensive line this week.