If Pat Narduzzi has made one thing abundantly clear this week, it’s that the Pitt Panthers aren’t looking ahead to what’s up next season. The focus is — entirely — on the next three games.
The first opportunity to show that Pitt is going to finish the season strong, after sitting at 2-7 entering the trip to New York City this weekend, comes in the form of Dino Babers and the Syracuse Orange.
So, let’s take a look at some talking points that arose over the week leading up to Pitt vs. Syracuse at Yankee Stadium.
Third Down Woes Stem From a Poor Pitt Offense
It’s hard to win a football game when you go 0-of-11 on third downs, 1-of-23 over the last two weeks, and Pat Narduzzi credited the efforts of the Florida State defense in an 0-for performance. But the Pitt third down woes aren’t exactly new.
“Without rewinding, you look at we’re 0 for 11 on third down,” Narduzzi said Saturday night. “We didn’t convert. Obviously, you give Florida State credit. There’s a reason they’re No. 4 in the country. They played good third down defense. When you look at it, probably too long of third down conversions.”
Pitt moved the sticks just 11 times against Notre Dame, with a few of those coming in garbage time in the fourth quarter, and that number jumped to 16 against Florida State. But without being able to sustain drives, routinely falling short on third down, it led to a lot of three-and-outs and a tired defense.
“I mean, any time you’re behind the sticks and it’s third and 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 32, whatever it is, those are hard to convert,” Narduzzi said. “Again, it starts with illegal procedures and guys jumping offsides and little discipline things that drive me crazy.”
Pitt picked up 11 penalties against the Seminoles, and seven were offensive. Most of them were pre-snap infractions, too. A delay of game, an illegal substitution and four false starts — two of which were on newly elected captain C’Bo Flemister on the same drive. And then two holds on Branson Taylor, who matched up a ferocious ‘Noles front seven.
Dayon Hayes is Playing Better Than His Stats Show
Life under Charlie Partridge’s watchful eye has led to more sacks and tackles for loss than just about any other team in college football over the last few seasons.
There have been some elite players, All-Americans and first round NFL Draft picks to come through Pitt during that time, but if the 2023 season has shown anything, it’s that the unit hasn’t quite been up to its usual standard.
It’s been a solid season, ranking 21st in sacks and ninth in tackles for loss in the NCAA this season, but it still isn’t the standard expected of a Pitt defense. It may be unfair to expect to be ranked in the top three every season, but that’s the expectation that Pitt shoulders.
Dayon Hayes was expected to be the guy this season after Habakkuk Baldonado, Deslin Alexandre and John Morgan and Calijah Kancey left, and he hasn’t matched that production himself.
Hayes doesn’t have the numbers, just two sacks this season, but even if the numbers don’t actually show it, he’s been one of the better pass-rushing defensive ends in college football this season.
Pat Narduzzi Evades Idea of In-Season Coaching Change
The offseason coaching carousel has slowly started to spin as coordinators around the country have begun to be let go by their respective teams.
Arkansas, Indiana and Iowa (although not technically a firing in the case of Brian Ferentz) have fired their offensive coordinators, and USC has made a change at defensive coordinator. And — while also not technically being fired — Colorado demoted offensive coordinator Sean Lewis from his play-calling duties.
College football has turned into a business, after all, and aside from Lewis (maybe), none of the fired coordinators were reaching the standard required of them. And that is a scenario that can be applied to Pitt this season, too.
But Pat Narduzzi evaded the idea of making an in-season coaching change himself when asked about it Thursday at his weekly news conference.
Ludwig: How I’d Like to See the Young Pitt Players Utilized
Bub Means was asked today if is able to look ahead to the future yet, with three games remaining for Pitt this season and the ability to return for a sixth collegiate season, but he hasn’t afforded himself the chance to do so.
“I don’t try to think too far in the future,” Means said Wednesday after practice. “Actually, we started taking the mindset — C’Bo, he’s actually one of our captains right now, he gave us this little — I guess he changed the team mindset to 1-0 every week. At first, we were breaking it down on ACC championship, and he was like, ‘Bro, we’re looking too far ahead, we just gotta look at every Saturday,’ and then he said, ‘Matter of fact, you don’t even need to look at Saturday, you look at today, you go 1-0 in every rep that you do today, then you get 1% better. So that’s how I look at it.”
He’s not alone. Pat Narduzzi and the Pitt coaching staff have echoed those sentiments all season long, throughout all the struggles, and that’s fair. You can’t come out and say you’re playing for next season. The Panthers need to do all they can to finish the season 5-7.
But even Narduzzi has said that the opportunity to get his true freshman into the games in a way that isn’t just throwing them into losing scenarios late in matchups.
Pat’s Points: Thoughts From Syracuse Week
As Pat Narduzzi stood at the podium inside the team room of the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex Monday, it was a better day than it was the day prior.
“Not a fun day in the office on Sunday after getting beat by a really good Florida State team,” Narduzzi said Monday at his weekly news conference. “But the one thing, I look at the tape, and I thought this after the game and you feel better, is just the effort that our kids played with.
“I think they played with a lot of passion, a lot of effort, and you kind of go back and watch the way they play, how hard they play. Did we do everything right? Not as coaches or players.”
Pitt had its chance in an upset attempt against No. 4 Florida State, but there were ultimately a few areas that held the Panthers back. And Narduzzi lamented those chances.
Frank Cignetti Jr. Will Decide if Nate Yarnell Sees the Field
Pitt has three games left, and I don’t know if it will be enough time to truly answer the most important question that Pitt faces next season: Who’s the quarterback?
Christian Veilleux has shown flashes as he’s started a handful of games, but if we’re going by the actual on-field production and results, it hasn’t been good. It has been two tough games against Notre Dame and Florida State, so there’s something to be said for the difficulty, but Veilleux has worse production than Phil Jurkovec.
Pitt does have Nate Yarnell — who made his first appearance of the season with a 25-yard touchdown in garbage time against the Fighting Irish — waiting on the bench, but it appears that Veilleux will be the guy — for now.
“Right now (Yarnell) is,” Pat Narduzzi said following the loss to Florida State. “Again, Christian made some plays. He got pressure. He got sacked three times. All those things. We can continue to talk, but Christian, he threw one pick today, and it was not a good one, but…”
But when it comes to Yarnell, who has made one career start during his time at Pitt, Narduzzi doesn’t know if he will get any time on the field going forward.