Narduzzi talks Syracuse, rivalry at press conference


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

The Panthers will face their old Big East rivals at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.

By Ben Bobeck, Senior Staff Writer

With Pitt (4-2 overall, 1-1 ACC) football’s matchups with Penn State concluded, an off-year in the Notre Dame series and the resumption of the Backyard Brawl scheduled for fall 2022, the Panthers’ upcoming matchup with Syracuse may be the best rivalry left on their schedule.

The old Big East foes will meet on Friday night at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse (3-3 overall, 0-2 ACC) for the 75th time overall and the seventh time since both joined the ACC in 2013. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi addressed the matchup in his weekly press conference with assembled media at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex Monday afternoon.

“Every Saturday, Friday night or Thursday night, whatever it may be, is fun. I look forward to every game,” Narduzzi said. “I mean, this is special because it’s Syracuse. I really like Dino Babers. Again, it’s got a little different flavor to it.”

The two programs have met every season since 1955, with the Panthers leading the overall series 39-32-3. Their last two meetings have been split, with each team winning at home — Pitt emerging victorious 44-37 in OT last season and Syracuse winning 27-24 in 2017.

Looking back at Pitt’s most recent game, a thrilling 33-30 victory over Duke in Durham, North Carolina, Narduzzi praised his defensive unit, especially the defensive line.

“We know Duke gave up one [sack] coming into it,” he said. “Alabama had one, we had three. That’s good.”

Narduzzi declined to emphasize a particular part of Pitt’s preparations for the next game, but said overall sound play would be crucial.

“It’s going to come down to fundamentals, execution and discipline,” he said. “I’ve been disappointed the last couple weeks with some of the way the flags have been thrown around, and I don’t like where our discipline is.”

The Panthers have been flagged for nearly 500 yards this season and rank 127th in the country with 83.17 penalty yards on nearly nine penalties called per game.

Pitt’s fifth-year head coach also addressed how he has evaluated the performance of the Panthers’ run game so far this season, as well as the uphill battle in replacing the productivity of Pitt’s two experienced backs last year, Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall.

“Obviously some fronts that have taken the run away from what we’ve done in the past,” Narduzzi said. “Even last year, early in the season, we did not run the ball as well, and then we started to get in a groove as the season went on. I think it’s going to be the same thing.”

Personnel-wise, Narduzzi singled out redshirt first-year offensive lineman Jake Kradel for his performance against Duke, as Kradel came in for a significant chunk of offensive plays in relief of redshirt sophomore Gabe Huoy. Narduzzi indicated that he expects Huoy to continue to start at that position. He also added that redshirt senior Jazzee Stocker and redshirt junior Bricen Garner would be the major fill-ins at safety, with star redshirt sophomore Paris Ford out for the first half after being called for a targeting penalty against Duke.

Narduzzi commented on two rule changes he’d like to see happen — the first concerning the lack of a targeting penalty appeal process, which will hold Ford out for the first half of Friday’s game. The second came in regard to the potential elimination of kickoffs, which Narduzzi said would save the team 10 minutes each week when practicing them “for nothing.”

“I think sometimes your kids feel the same way, like we’re not going to get a chance, and then you drop back, all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, wait a second, it’s returnable.’ But I mean, based on the way it is and how good the kickers are kicking the thing in the end zone, it wouldn’t bother me,” Narduzzi said.

For now, kickoffs will remain, with one taking place at 7 p.m. Friday evening when Pitt and Syracuse add one more meeting to their extensive history.

“Anytime they play the Pitt Panthers, we know we’re in for a dogfight,” Narduzzi said. “Great, great football team and going to be a battle. Both teams will be ready to go.”