The Pitt football team doubled its win column after its last two games, but a lull in play thanks to a bye week could slow the team’s momentum.
But with a two-game winning streak on the line, head coach Pat Narduzzi isn’t worried about the upcoming Thursday night game.
“How do you keep it going after six or seven days?” Narduzzi said in his Monday press conference. “It’s no difference. if you make a big deal out of an open week and say, ‘Oh my gosh, you had momentum going’ — it doesn’t matter. You’ve got more days to prepare, so the momentum should be the same.”
While most press conferences begin with a review of how the weekend’s game was played, this week was different — both because of the break in play and because Narduzzi said he couldn’t remember the Panthers’ last opponent.
“We’ve had a good, I guess, almost a week away,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t think you guys want to go back and talk about the last game. I don’t even remember who we played, to be honest with you. But it’s all about North Carolina and who they are.”
The Panthers have spent more than a week preparing for a matchup with the 1-8 Tar Heels. While North Carolina’s record isn’t intimidating, Narduzzi said it won’t be an easy win.
“Our work will be cut out for us,” Narduzzi said. “I know some of you guys will probably think it’s an easy game. We’ve stressed with our guys it will not be an easy game, I’ll guarantee you that, and Thursday night should be fun.”
The UNC team Pitt will play Thursday looks a bit different than it did last season. Narduzzi pointed out how the Tar Heels lost a couple key players to the NFL — quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and receiver Ryan Switzer — after the 2016-17 campaign.
Narduzzi said North Carolina’s losses have allowed the Tar Heels to develop younger players. This might pose some issues in regard to understanding the depth at quarterback, but it’s nothing Narduzzi is unfamiliar with.
“The guy that took over, I think, after the 27th play last week, Nathan Elliott, is a coach’s kid from Texas. He’s tough,” Narduzzi said. “So they’ve got three capable guys that I think — are any of them Trubisky? Probably not. But none of ours are Peterman yet, either, so that’s even right there.”
While Narduzzi thinks the game will be competitive, UNC stood victorious after the teams’ previous two meetings. Narduzzi said the Panthers took advantage of the bye week, allowing coaching staff to give the team a day off and cut back on practice lengths, hoping to avoid three straight losses to the Tar Heels.
“We’ll be prepared and we’ll be fresh,” Narduzzi said.
Narduzzi is looking for good performances from players such as junior running back Darrin Hall and junior wide receiver Quadree Henderson to lead the team. Hall had a career performance against Duke, but his newfound confidence isn’t surprising to Narduzzi.
“You never give up on a kid after his freshman year or sophomore year or junior year,” Narduzzi said. “[Hall] is a good football player. When we recruited him, we knew he was talented, and we’re kind of getting what we thought we’d have.”
As for Henderson, the team has come to rely heavily on his punt returns. While he could be a major contributor on offense, Narduzzi said he has to make those opportunities for himself.
“We’ve got to find ways to get [the ball] in his hands and make it like a punt return,” Narduzzi said. “He’s had opportunities to get the ball and stumbled around, so he’s got to start to visualize some big plays on offense.”
Though UNC falls at the bottom of the ACC, Pitt will have a tough end to its season, taking on No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 7 Miami in the final two games.
If the Panthers want to be bowl-eligible, they will need to win at least two of their final three games. But as for Narduzzi, he hopes his team isn’t talking about anything but Thursday night’s game.
“I don’t sleep in the dorms at night. I can’t tell you what they talk about anywhere else, and I really don’t care,” Narduzzi said. “I hope they’re not talking about that. I hope they’re just talking about North Carolina and playing one game at a time.”