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Takeaways: There Are No Positive Takeaways for Pitt Against Notre Dame

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Pitt offensive lineman Ryan Baer listens to his coaches as the Panthers play Virginia Tech on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now.)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It’s hard to take much away from a 58-7 loss. It’s nearly impossible to take anything good away from a 51-point loss.

Pitt actually held its own for two quarters, trailing 17-0 after a very rough half of football that would’ve been far, far worse without an inspired effort from the defense. Unfortunately for Pitt, it seems that Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman did a good job inspiring his squad at the half.

“I challenged every person in the locker room that we got to come out with a sense of urgency and on fire to perform the way we should,” Freeman said following the Fighting Irish win. “I was pleased with the way the entire team came out the second half and really finished drive offensively, defensively and even special teams.”

And the way he ended that quote is interesting. Pitt didn’t finish offensively, defensively and even on special teams in the most lopsided loss of the Pat Narduzzi era.

Pitt played a very, very poor game against Notre Dame, and it will certainly not get any easier as No. 4 Florida State comes to town next weekend.

If You Don’t Burn the Tape, Learn From It

For Christian Veilleux, who completed less than 50% of his pass attempts and threw four interceptions, it would be easy to throw away the tape and never think about the loss again. I think I’d do that.

But he said that, while he places the blame for the loss solely on his own shoulders, all he can do now is learn from the experience and do all that he can to ensure such an experience never happens again. It’s up to him, and his teammates, to grieve, get back to the facility and grow.

“It’s just a regular Sunday, you come in, you lift, you watch the film, and you move on,” Veilleux said after the loss. “I think we’re all excited for the opportunity, and I don’t think any of us are gonna be like, ‘Ah, man, we got our butts whooped by Notre Dame.’ It is what it is, sometimes you have bad days, but we’ve gotta come into the office tomorrow, just move on and one step forward every day.”

Pitt was poor across all three phases, it certainly wasn’t just Veilleux (even just offensively), and the coaching staff is not without its share of the blame.

“Obviously, the team is going through a tough situation right now,” Narduzzi said following the loss. “We’re not playing as good and we’ve got a lot of young football players out there. We’ll stick together as a football team and lock back in. We’ve got another great Florida State team coming in, and we’ve gotta gather together and get going.”

After postgame comments trended seemingly nationwide, with Narduzzi releasing a Twitter statement to say that the loss fell 100% on his shoulders, he needs to ensure that the team is aligned going forward.

Notre Dame was certainly a learning experience in many ways.

Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr.

No Fixing This Offense 

I don’t think the offense — either through coaching or personnel or scheme or whatever — is fixable this season. The Frank Cignetti Jr. era seemingly gets worse every week.

Pitt was dangerously close to losing 58-0 against the Fighting Irish. Aside from a fourth quarter scoring drive led by Nate Yarnell in garbage time, moving the ball 75 yards in three plays, the Panthers managed 180 yards and 0 points.

This is a good Notre Dame defense, a great one even, but Pitt should not have looked like the JV squad getting to scrimmage up against the upperclassmen. It started slowly and just got worse.

“I’ll just go back to the first play of the game,” Narduzzi said. “We get sacked. There’s a crossing route, and if you back and watch it, he’s wide open and (Veilleux) doesn’t see it. There’s some big dudes in front of you, and there’s things happening out there. It’s just one thing after another, and it snowballs a bit, but we’ve got to make plays.

“They do a good job on defense. Give them credit. They beat down Southern Cal two weeks, had an open week and had two weeks to prepare for us and were fresh.”

But even when given an opportunity, Pitt turned two first quarterback interceptions and a turnover on downs into 0 points. Three punts (11 total plays) and an interception of their own.

Veilleux threw four interceptions on the day, including a pick-six in the third quarter, which was the first of back-to-back drives with interceptions, and it was the first time (if you don’t count the second half against North Carolina) that Veilleux truly looked out of place.

But he wasn’t helped by his coaches either. Just 14 carries for Rodney Hammond Jr. and C’Bo Flemister. Gavin Bartholomew wasn’t targeted a single time, which Veilleux attributed to just how the scheme, the protection and the coverage unfolded, but he did say that there was an emphasis on getting the ball to the wide receivers.

It’s a bad offense that has a bad scheme, no identity, and, for some reason, doesn’t get the ball to its playmakers. And that’s not gonna change over the final month of the season.

I mean, Pitt was running the option today. With Christian Veilleux.

Pitt linebacker Shayne Simon.

Pittsburgh Panthers linebacker Shayne Simon (32) October 5, 2023 David Hague/PSN

Missed Tackles Once Again Doom Defense 

Notre Dame scored 58 points against Pitt, the third most given up during the Narduzzi era, and the Panthers allowed two special teams touchdowns and a defensive touchdown. 37 points still isn’t good, but it’s what happens when there’s no offensive help.

It’s not a perfect Pitt defense, but it is a unit that is good enough to win football games. Pitt was never going to beat Notre Dame, not like this, but maybe if Pitt capitalizes on a couple of early turnovers or doesn’t implode to start the second half, it’s not a 37-0 game with over eight minutes left in the third quarter.

But. Tackling is still an issue. A major issue. Pitt didn’t create nearly enough pressure on Sam Hartman, as Samuel Okunlola record the Panthers’ lone sack, and ND’s Audric Estime ran for 114 yards (at six yards per carry) and three touchdowns.

But man, after poor tackling against Louisville and Wake Forest, Pitt didn’t clean it up against the Irish.

“Estime is a good back,” Narduzzi said. “He’s physical, and they’re rotating three or four backs in there and give them credit. A couple of times, there were some fit problems, playing a lot of young linebackers as well. I thought we did a good job. I don’t know what the rushing stats were at halftime, but we did a good job there and just got worn out.

“We’ll see, I don’t think there were a whole lot of adjustments on their side. They didn’t do anything different, we just didn’t tackle as well. It’s mostly on the edge. I know the first touchdown was a crack replace, and we didn’t get off of it fast enough. I’m not sure exactly why. The corner says he came in and took the guy and didn’t know if it was a crack or he was running a crossing route and they got us there. We’ll see the fit on that.

“It’s just the little things here and there, a play here or there, offensively, defensively and certainly special teams.”

I don’t think it’s a bad defensive unit. In fact, I think it’s a pretty solid one, but when its counterpart struggles so mightily, all of the issues will emerge.

Pitt kicker Ben Sauls.

Pittsburgh Panthers place kicker Ben Sauls (90) October 5, 2023 David Hague/PSN

No Bright Spots on Special Teams Either 

Pitt went three-and-out on its first offensive possession, receiving the ball on its own 35 after P.J. O’Brien Jr. picked off Hartman, and one of Caleb Junko’s best punts of the night was completely wasted.

Junko booted the ball 47 yards, forcing Notre Dame wideout Chris Tyree to field the ball inside the Irish 20, but even though Byron Floyd sprinted all the way down the field after snapping the ball, he bounced off Tyree. As did four or five more Pitt gunners.

And Tyree raced 82 yards back to the end zone, pinballing through the Pitt coverage team, to give the Fighting Irish an early 7-0 lead.

“The coverage was good, the protection was good all game,” Narduzzi said. “Last season, it was more punter issues and dropping snaps and we have not done that this year. It’s just a different way. Again, our coverage was good. I didn’t see exactly where the location of the punt was. It probably wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful either. It’s not the reason.

“We’ve got guys there to make the tackle, and it’s the same thing on the kickoff return late where we’ve got guys there to make a tackle and we overrun the ball and just take some bad angles. Sometimes good players do that to you.”

Notre Dame scored twice on special teams, the Tyree return and a fumble recovery in the third quarter after M.J. Devonshire fumbled inside the 5-yard line. Two disastrous plays.

And while Junko finished the night with an average of 41.3 yards per punt, with seven punts on the night, that’s only a minimal improvement over the last few weeks. And the random 30-yard punts, as was the case with Wake Forest, have come back to hurt the Panthers.

Even the ever-reliable Ben Sauls missed his lone field goal attempt, sending a 45-yard attempt wide in the first half.

There isn’t as much of a watchful eye on special teams units, and the Pitt special teams unit — as a whole — played pretty well through the first half of the season. It was disastrous, in kicking, punting and returning against Notre Dame. And for a team that struggles to score, that cannot happen.

It feels like Pitt is in need of foundational change when it comes to special teams — a lingering, multi-season issue now.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Young
Young
8 months ago

Lack of talent is one, and bad coaching/game planning is another. But both can be fixed with new coaches. Time to change. Fans have to endure several bad/bottom dweller seasons, but if that brings “hope”, then must be done.

Fjb
Fjb
8 months ago
Reply to  Young

Agree. If there’s going to be a coaching change then do it now. Try to give kids some hope and maybe a few will stick around. There is going to a mass transfer after the season either way, especially after Narduzzi’s post-game comments.

Steve
Steve
8 months ago

The HC’s expiration date has arrived. Write the check and move on. Good god

Denny
Denny
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Narduzzi has already lost the lockeroom, The stands are empty, and the team is lousy.

Kelvin Byrd
Kelvin Byrd
8 months ago

Nobody is going to mention Byron Floyd and his disastrous missed tackle on the punt return for the first score? It was absolutely awful.

That aside. Fire Narduzzi.

Denny
Denny
8 months ago

We cannot afford for Narduzzi to be our head football coach in 2024. The embarressing losses have piled up. The incompetence has been on absolute full display this season.

Panther
Panther
8 months ago
Reply to  Denny

Change NOW is the key. Can’t wait until December. We won the ACC a couple years ago. Fire Cignetti now.
Narduzzi is an emotional and competitive guy who loves his players. They know that. The statement after the notre dame game was directed more at the QB position. Cignetti brought in Jurkovec and CV.

Toledo Window Box
Toledo Window Box
8 months ago

If it gets Cignetti fired then that’s a big positive. Pitt has plenty of talent but no QB to lead it on the field. Period. The season was lost the second they pinned all hopes on Phil Jurkovec. In retrospect that was an awful lot of wishful thinking and if Phil was the best Cignetti could bring in then he either has no eye for talent or can’t sell Pitt to talent. Time to go Frank. Pitt needs Tyler Palko and 5 TDs for Pitt. Instead Pitt got Villieux and 5 TDs for ND.

O P
O P
8 months ago

Fire Cignetti now. Salem can run the offense for the rest of the season. Then get the best (under 50) OC that we can afford.

Panther
Panther
8 months ago

Change NOW is the key. Can’t wait until December. We won the ACC a couple years ago. Fire Cignetti now.
Narduzzi is an emotional and competitive guy who loves his players. They know that. The statement after the notre dame game was directed more at the QB position.

George
George
8 months ago

Pitt’s punter is terrible. He’s had several punts less than 15 yards recently and hasn’t put the ball inside the 10 nearly enough. His longest punt went thru the end zone. Just unacceptible with 2 or 3 other punters on the team.

Kelvin Byrd
Kelvin Byrd
8 months ago

Let’s add the option! Yeah, that will fool Notre Dame!

What a bunch of morons.

Toledo Window Box
Toledo Window Box
8 months ago
Reply to  Kelvin Byrd

LMAO. I Couldn’t believe they even tried that option I thought I dreamed that. They really are out of ideas….it’s like I can picture them spitballing and someone says what are our options? Wait. That’s it! The option! Brilliant!

Let’s Believe
Let’s Believe
8 months ago

Twenty years ago there would have been no problem with Narduzzi’s quote. Today’s kids are soft, overly sensitive and above correction. I agree with the guys on the nightly sports call. What he said was true. Players need to look at themselves. But Cignetti was what Narduzzi wanted and it has blown up in his face. He shouldn’t have pissed off Whipple. And he should have promoted Marion to OC. Period.

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