It doesn’t matter if it’s Grant Wells or Kyron Drones starting for Virginia Tech, although it appears that Drones will start at quarterback, Pitt cannot lose the turnover battle.
Pitt turned the ball over once against Cincinnati, thrice against West Virginia and thrice against North Carolina. In that time, the Pitt defense forced just two turnovers. That’s an unsustainable model if Pitt wants to halt its three-game losing skid.
“Coach gave us a stat, and you guys can fact check this, it’s somewhere close to what I’m going to say,” Partridge said Tuesday after practice. “During fall camp, coach (Narduzzi) goes through the seven keys to winning and talking about turnovers, I believe his record is somewhere near or it was 40-6 when you win the turnover battle.
“40-6. So, everything we’re doing, we’re trying to improve on the things that we’re doing well, we’re trying to find the things that we’re not doing well, like what I’m talking about, forcing takeaways, we’re trying to put an extra emphasis on that.”
After intercepting 14 passes (third in the ACC) and recording 48 sacks (second in the ACC) last season, Pitt has just one interception, two fumble recoveries and 14 sacks through four games this season.
To be fair, the defense has faced a couple of run-heavy offenses in Cincinnati and West Virginia. And it was a very tough test against North Carolina’s high-powered passing attack last weekend.
“We’re not creating enough, okay?” Pat Narduzzi said Thursday at his weekly news conference. “So, whatever we did in the past, we need to get back to it. If you find out, let me know.”
Pitt didn’t force a turnover against UNC. And Narduzzi lamented an early call turned back.
Dayon Hayes hit UNC’s Drake Maye from behind on the Tar Heels’ first offensive snap, and as the football left Maye’s hand, it was originally ruled a fumble recovered by the Panthers. Video replay showed that his arm was coming forward, and Pitt missed a big opportunity.
“You almost had one on the first play of the game last week, which could have been a gigantic momentum change, and we don’t get it,” Narduzzi said. “We had a wrist forward. But we do a turnover circuit every day. We’re trying to create and we try to do the same thing during practice about getting the ball back, whether it’s interceptions or trying to cause a fumble the way they’re caused.
“And the same thing on offense. We’re trying to eliminate those. We have to eliminate those. To win the turnover ratio, you can’t give them up, and if you get one, you’re plus one and happy. That’s how you win football games, and that’s how you lose games if you’re minus-two like we were last week against a really good North Carolina team.”
Pitt was mins three against UNC, minus three against West Virginia and with Phil Jurkovec starting against Virginia Tech, he cannot afford to be minus three against Virginia Tech.
If Pitt is able to protect the ball and force a turnover or two from the Hokies, it bodes well for a return to the win column.