Narduzzi keeps team focused on Nova with PSU showdown looming


Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi addressed the media Monday at Pitt's South Side practice facility. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

By Steve Rotstein / Sports Editor

Pitt head football coach Pat Narduzzi didn’t dive into any specifics for his team’s game plan against the Villanova Wildcats at his week one press conference, but he made one thing clear: for him and the Panthers, the season opener can’t come soon enough.

“I’m excited to watch our whole football team play. I’m excited for them to go out there at 1:30 [Sept. 3] and show what they’ve done over the past year,” Narduzzi said. “It’s game time. It’s a new year.”

Narduzzi and the team are certainly amped to take the field against Villanova in week one, but they couldn’t escape questions on Monday about looking ahead to the highly anticipated rivalry game against Penn State in week two.

“We try and make sure they ignore you guys, that’s the first step,” Narduzzi said, referring to the assembled press. “That game doesn’t mean anything if you don’t take care of Villanova first. Our focus will be on them.”

The second-year head coach praised the Wildcats and their head coach Andy Talley, who enters his 32nd and final season at the school.

“He’s been in the [Football Championship Subdivision] playoffs 11 times. He’s won a national championship and has been named the national coach of the year twice,” Narduzzi said. “He’s an excellent football coach –– it’s an excellent program.”

While Villanova is an FCS school, Narduzzi reminded the team of the Wildcats’ pedigree when taking on Football Bowl Subdivision schools.

“The last three FBS teams they have played, they have taken to the wire,” Narduzzi said. “They will come in here ready to go, and we must be ready to go.”

Although Narduzzi is looking forward to seeing the entire team take the field Saturday, there’s one player in particular fans can’t wait to see emerge from the tunnel –– redshirt junior running back James Conner.

Conner is back on top of the depth chart less than a year after tearing his MCL in the 2015 season opener, then being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma weeks later on Thanksgiving Day while attempting to rehab his knee. College football fans all across the country — and especially at Pitt — will be focusing on his return. For Narduzzi, it’s a moment he hasn’t had time to picture yet.

“When this thing started less than a year ago, James came up to the coaches and said, ‘I’m going to beat this thing, and I’m going to tell a story.’ To me, that’s like the last chapter when he walks back out on that football field,” Narduzzi said. “I haven’t really been thinking about it –– maybe I’ll think about it the night before.”

The Panthers open the 2016 season at Heinz Field 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3, against Villanova.

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