Pitt football in for even bigger challenge after knocking off PSU


After winning the game against Penn State this weekend, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi turned his attention to Oklahoma State. John Hamilton / Staff Photographer.

By Dan Sostek | Senior Staff Writer

Pat Narduzzi is tired of talking about Penn State, and he wants to make sure his players aren’t spending too much time basking in the glory of last week’s win.

“There’s a 24-hour rule,” the Pitt head football coach said Wednesday. “You can have fun Saturday night and wake up in the morning with a smile. When they came in here at 4 o’clock on Sunday, they came in to work. It’s game on again, and we started the next week.”

Nevertheless, players from Pitt and Oklahoma State will be running onto the field on Saturday on polar opposite sides of the happiness spectrum.

While the Panthers conquered their in-state rival Penn State in their first matchup in 16 years, the Cowboys suffered an upset Saturday after an officiating error gave Central Michigan an untimed down, during which it converted a long hook-and-lateral touchdown.

With the thrill of victory and agony of defeat still lingering, the two teams will face off in Stillwater, Oklahoma, at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Moving on from Penn State

With Saturday’s game looming for the Panthers, Narduzzi got frustrated by Penn State questions at a media teleconference Wednesday and quickly changed the subject.

“I’d really like to get on to Oklahoma State because they’re a great football team,” Narduzzi said after fielding another question about his team’s clapping signals in the Penn State game. “Oklahoma State has this quarterback [Mason Rudolph], they’ve got [wide receiver] James Washington, No. 28, that can run down the field, and we’re talking about clapping.”

The coach thinks too much soaking in on that win could lead to a blowout.

“If you focus on that, [Oklahoma State] will punch you in the mouth the next week,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve got to move on. It’s all about what can we do this week.”

Getting physical

For years under head coach Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State’s program has developed a reputation of dynamic offenses and athletic defenses.

On his weekly coach’s show, Gundy said his team needs to be prepared for what Pitt’s program is known for: toughness.

“[Pitt] is a very physical, Pennsylvania style of team,” Gundy said. “They believe in that physical style of play. It will be a real challenge for our guys in the running game, but we’ll find out where we’re at pretty quick.”

Gundy projected three players on Pitt’s defense and two on Pitt’s offense will be drafted but didn’t specify who. He also noted how the team has worked hard to prepare for Pitt’s constant motion and shifting on offense.

“It’s a power running game, but it’s a little unusual,” Gundy said. “It takes a lot of work. We worked hard on it today, and we’ll have to put a lot of time into it over the next two days to try to get prepared.”

In his Monday press conference, Gundy said the team has studied Pitt extensively, and thinks they’re being overlooked nationally.

“They’re a team that should be ranked in the top 25 with what they have returning,” Gundy said.

“They’ve played well so far this year, so it will be a real challenge for us in a lot of different areas.”

Spreading it out

Quarterback Mason Rudolph leads the Cowboys’ passing attack, as the junior is expected to be one of the top signal-calling prospects in the 2017 NFL draft.

Rudolph has been solid but not spectacular in the onset of 2016, throwing for four touchdowns and one pick. Narduzzi noted that Rudolph was a concern but added that the entire offense is going to require extra effort from Pitt.  

“They like to chuck it deep, so we will be ready for that,” Narduzzi said. “They get into some max splits where they are really spreading you out. At the same time, we need to try to stop the run because they like to run the ball. It will be a challenge.”

Besides Rudolph, the offense features blazing wide receivers Jalen McCluskey, James Washington and the son of the best running back in program history, Barry Sanders Jr. Sanders Jr. sits behind Chris Carson, a top draft prospect, and Rennie Childs on the depth chart.

Oklahoma State’s offense took a step back against Central Michigan last week, managing to only score 27 points. But they were ablaze in week one, hanging 61 on FCS school Southeastern Louisiana. Pitt isn’t underestimating how potent the offense is.

“They score a lot of points,” Narduzzi said. “They like to score points.”

Everybody hurts

Pitt has already had its fair share of injuries early on this season.

After the Panthers’ win against Penn State, Narduzzi announced that starting defensive end Dewayne Hendrix and linebacker Elijah Zeise would both miss the entire season after suffering injuries in the season opener against Villanova.

“It’s unfortunate because they are two great young men and great players and we are going to miss them on the playing field,” Narduzzi said.

Besides losing those two, a pair of other Panthers’ statuses are still up in the air.

Blue chip freshman Damar Hamlin has not seen the field yet due to an undisclosed injury, and top wideout Dontez Ford left the Penn State game with his right arm in a sling.

Narduzzi wouldn’t commit to anything regarding Hamlin’s health, but said “there’s a chance” he’ll play this season.

Narduzzi said Ford’s status is still waffling.

“He’s right now up in the air, we’ll see where he is this week,” Narduzzi said. “He’s a tough kid, so I expect to see him out there.”

Final prediction:

This is a tough matchup for the Panthers, who struggled to defend Penn State’s passing attack last week. Oklahoma State’s spread offense could wear Pitt’s defensive backs thin, while the speed of the Cowboys’ skill position players might be too much to handle. In a raucous environment against a team desperate to bounce back, the Panthers will likely suffer their first loss of the year.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Pitt 24

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