Narduzzi addresses Ford, upcoming Florida State game

By John Riskis, Staff Writer

Junior safety Paris Ford’s decision to opt out of the remainder of Pitt’s 2020 football season dominated discussions during Pitt football’s Monday press conference.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi expressed gratitude for Ford’s time spent on the team and respected his decision to opt out.

“Paris is a tremendous football player, a tremendous person, a guy that we’ve got a lot of respect for and we appreciate all the efforts he’s put in here,” Narduzzi said. “We wish him all the best in his endeavors as he moves on through this football world and the rest of his life.”

Losing Ford will be a tough pill to swallow for the Pitt defensive backfield that has struggled to contain opposing teams in the air.

Ford logged 60 solo tackles in his 2019 season and currently leads the team with 28 this season through seven games. He also forced six interceptions over his career with three in both the 2019 and 2020 season.

Narduzzi dismissed concerns about the impact of Ford’s departure on the Panthers’ defense and remained confident in his presumed replacement, redshirt freshman defensive back Brandon Hill.

“You know, it’s not a concern for me right now. I think our kids are excited to go down to Florida State and play a really good football team,” Narduzzi said. “It’s an opportunity for that guy to take it over and be the future safety at that spot. I think he’s a fantastic football player. He’s athletic, he’s tough, he’s physical and he flies around with a ton of effort.”

Hill has been solid, if unspectacular, in a reserve role this season. He shined particularly bright against Notre Dame this season, where he logged three solo tackles and assisted for five more.

ACC commissioner John Swofford mandated Election Day this Tuesday as an off-day for athletes, siding with the NCAA at large. Narduzzi commended the ACC’s decision and went into further detail about how crucial voting is for the players and country.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Narduzzi said. “I think everybody talks about wanting change, wanting to make an impact, and everybody’s vote counts. I think it’s important for our kids to get out there and don’t complain about the results if you don’t put your name on that.”

While the whole team went without practice Tuesday, one particular player remains a question mark. After missing two straight games due to an ankle injury sustained during the game against Boston College, concern regarding senior quarterback Kenny Pickett and his health has surrounded the offense. Narduzzi did not provide any further updates regarding his injury status going into this week’s matchup against Florida State.

“No, I wish I could tell you,” Narduzzi said. “I wish I could confirm that he’s good to go. I think he gets better every week. We’ll just keep working at it.”

Arguably more concerning than Pickett’s injury has been the Panthers run game, which has clocked in at a mere 2.8 yards per attempt and averages only 98 yards per game. Despite inefficiency on the ground, Narduzzi reiterated his confidence in his team, this time specific in running the football.
“We’re going to continue to try and eventually just keep pounding that rock,” Narduzzi said. “The first hit might not make it, but after that 115th, 200th, 2,000th hit on that stone, that thing will crack open and we’ve got to continue to push and work to dig through that thing.”

The underutilization of first-year running back Israel Abanikanda in the past three games has also sparked questions over his development and playing time. Narduzzi refused to give specifics and kept his plan for the heralded first-year’s playing time tentative.

“Again, it’s just a process,” Narduzzi said. “You’ve got to trust the process, whether it’s in the run game or having patience with your players, period. We’ll find out. We’ll find out on Saturday if Izzy gets a few more carries, and we’ll see.”

The Panthers will need a stronger rushing attack against Florida State if they’re to return home on Saturday with their first win in more than a month. Narduzzi stressed FSU’s resilience as a team after a rough start and uncertainty around the quarterback position.

“What you see out of Florida State is a constant improvement every single week,” Narduzzi said. “They’ve gone through four quarterbacks on offense in Rodemaker, Purdy … Blackman. But now they’ve found their guy, I think.”

That “guy” Narduzzi referenced is Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis, who led the struggling Seminoles to an upset victory over North Carolina on Oct. 17. Narduzzi praised his versatility as a starter and Florida State’s ability to make use of the playbook.

“Jordan Travis, No. 13, is a football player. I really, really like that guy,” Narduzzi said. “He’s the key to their offense. They like to run it. He’ll throw the RPOs. We’ll see the t-shoots. They like to copycat what they see on tape, so we’ve worked a ton of different stuff that we’ve seen through the years, anything that’s hurt us.”

As they prepare for another week, the Panthers will need to resolve many question marks surrounding their roster. Can their defense continue to dominate without Ford? Will they be able to contend offensively without Pickett for possibly a third straight game? How will their run game improve after a lackluster performance this season? It remains to be seen whether Narduzzi and the Panthers can provide those answers on the field this Saturday in Tallahassee, Florida, versus the Seminoles.