Narduzzi praises UNC’s Brown, criticizes scheduling conflict


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Coach Narduzzi’s Panthers have never beaten the North Carolina Tar Heels.

By Ben Bobeck, Senior Staff Writer

On paper, North Carolina might not seem like the most challenging opponent with its 4-5 record (3-3 in ACC play). But Pitt head football coach Pat Narduzzi knows never to take the Tar Heels lightly, considering he’s gone 0-4 against them since coming to the Panthers in 2015.

And UNC presents a particularly difficult matchup this year because of its first-year head coach — long-time coaching veteran and 2005 national champion Mack Brown.

“Obviously he’s coached a long time,” Narduzzi said. “But he’s a heck of a guy. Very, very likable guy. You can see why he’s had so much success. I’m looking forward to a matchup with Mack Brown. He’s a legend.”

Narduzzi began his weekly press conference by praising how his team approached the bye week coming off a close win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

“I can’t tell you how nice it is to have a win and then have a bye week,” Narduzzi said. “Because I’ve been around some miserable weekends or weeks when you lose football games.“

Narduzzi noted that the bye week gave both his team and staff an opportunity to freshen up with only two practices throughout the week and the all-important fourth quarter of the season looming.

The Panthers will need as much rest and preparation as they can get when Brown brings his UNC team to Pittsburgh on Thursday night at 8 p.m. Pitt has yet to beat the Tar Heels in the ACC, going 0-6 since joining the conference in 2013.

The Panthers’ last win in the series came in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl under former coach Dave Wannstedt — a narrow 19-17 result. The tight finish in that game has been characteristic of the series as a whole. Each of the last eight meetings were decided by one touchdown or less dating back all the way to Pitt’s 20-17 loss to UNC at home in November 2000.

When asked jokingly if Thursday’s game should start with the two teams tied and five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Narduzzi responded in kind.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Narduzzi said. “You want to call the ACC office and see if we can get that done? I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Many Pittsburgh locals wouldn’t mind a shortened game, as it would leave them more time to take in Pitt’s professional neighbors at Heinz Field and the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. When Pitt kicks off Thursday night on the North Side, the Steelers will do the same a few hours down the road in Cleveland, in the NFL’s weekly Thursday Night Football game. Narduzzi expressed annoyance at the conflicting schedules of the Steelers and his Panthers.

“It’s not good for the ACC playing on the same night as an NFL franchise in your same city,” he said. “It’d be different if the Cowboys were playing, you know, the Seattle Seahawks or something, or the New England Patriots. But it’s [two teams in] the same city, two hours away.”

He went on to criticize the NFL for not taking into account Pitt’s schedule, which had been released prior to the NFL’s.

“I think there needs to be, especially with some NFL franchises and college football and conferences, they have to start and look and say, you know, what makes sense for the city of Pittsburgh,” Narduzzi said. “And that obviously wasn’t done.”

As for the actual game that will be played, Narduzzi addressed the performance of both his offense and coach Brown’s, specifically first-year UNC quarterback Sam Howell. When asked if Howell was the difference in Carolina’s offense this season, Narduzzi deferred, emphasizing the importance of playing as a team.

“You can have a good quarterback that’s making plays, but if you’ve got nobody that catches the ball, if you don’t have running backs that are running the football, they have got an offensive line, one guy doesn’t make a difference,” Narduzzi said. ”[Howell]’s a good football player … but it takes more than one.”

Assessing the play of his own quarterback Kenny Pickett, Narduzzi praised Pickett amid an up-and-down season for the junior signal-caller. He added that he’d like to cut down on the turnovers after Pickett threw two interceptions against the Yellow Jackets. Rather than place the blame solely on Pickett, he likened the problem to the team as a whole, noting that one of the interceptions bounced right off a receiver’s hands.

Turnover issues aside, Narduzzi also addressed the need for Pitt’s offense to break out a bit — especially against Howell and the Heels.

“I think our offense has shown, when it becomes a high-scoring game, that they can match with it and not be conservative and do whatever,” he said. “I think, you know, you go into the game, you find out … But it depends on the style of the game, the weather of the game and everything else. You take everything into account.”