Preview | Narduzzi needs to right the ship against Virginia Tech before it’s too late


Jonathan Guo | Staff Photographer

Pitt football helmets.

By Dalton Coppola, Sports Editor

It’s time for the Pitt football team and its fans to accept the truth — this team is not built for a national championship. Coming into this year, the expectations from fans and the media alike were high. Some even predicted Pitt to finish in the top four teams in the nation.

Just five weeks later, Pitt is no longer ranked in the top 25, and the Panthers have suffered two losses at home. Two losses just five games into the season — especially a loss to a bottom-feeder in the ACC — essentially put the nail in the coffin for Pitt’s College Football Playoff aspirations. 

While the Panthers’ chances at winning a national championship are likely down the tubes, they still have a full ACC schedule to play. Pitt (3-2, 0-1 ACC) will host the Virginia Tech Hokies (2-3, 1-1 ACC) this Saturday for its annual homecoming game. After falling to one of the worst teams in the conference, there are a lot of concerns hanging over the Panthers heading into the game with the Hokies — namely the offense.

The Panthers boasted one of the country’s best offenses in 2021. Quarterback Kenny Pickett rose to stardom in front of the Panther faithful’s eyes, leading the most prolific passing attack in Pitt football history. Pickett reached heights that no Pitt player had ever reached before, breaking nearly every Pitt passing record and leading the Panthers to their first ever ACC Championship. The Jersey native did this all in his final year of eligibility and became the first quarterback off of the board in the 2022 NFL Draft.

It’s safe to say that the Panthers have missed Pickett so far. The Panthers are averaging 251 passing yards per game in 2022, down from 2021’s season total of 337.4 yards per game. While Pitt fans certainly didn’t expect the same level of production this year, it seems they may have underestimated just how critical Pickett was to the team’s success.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi lured in senior quarterback transfer Kedon Slovis from USC to take over for Pickett. The fans believed Slovis could build upon the 2021 season and lead the Panthers to the promised land.

Truthfully, Slovis hasn’t played poorly. But he hasn’t played great either. He has appeared in three and a half games, exiting the Tennessee game early with an injury and missing the win over Western Michigan the following week. His performance in those games has earned Pitt a 2-2 record in games he started, though he admittedly didn’t finish the game against Tennessee.

Slovis’ statline against Georgia Tech was deceiving. He registered more than 300 yards of passing, but most of this came with the Panthers trailing by two possessions and the Yellow Jackets playing prevent defense. The senior held onto the ball for just a hair too long on a fair amount of plays, causing errant passes and sacks. Slovis acknowledged this and said he needs to make decisions faster to win football games.

“I think at times I should’ve been more decisive,” Slovis said. “I’ve got to play better for us to win.”

The other glaring issue for Pitt starts all the way at the top with Narduzzi. He’s in his eighth year as head coach for the Panthers and while he has reached incredibly high highs, he’s also hit some really low lows. 

Narduzzi has lost at home four times in the last two seasons — three of which the Panthers were favored to win. The most recent loss was the third largest upset in the ACC over the past 25 years. Losing to inferior teams has become a pattern for Pitt under Narduzzi’s watch.

That’s an issue.

Narduzzi said on Monday that he thinks his players didn’t execute on Saturday, and he needs to do a better job getting his team ready to win football games.

“I don’t think we did a great job coaching, the whole deal,” Narduzzi said. “Our kids are playing their tails off, I can tell you that. Look at the back of the wall, I talk about our attitude. I think our attitude is really good.”

Narduzzi received a lucrative contract extension keeping him in Pittsburgh for quite some time. It’s time he starts getting his guys ready to go for every game — not just the ones against marquee opponents. That starts this weekend against Virginia Tech.

Pitt can’t afford to lose many more games if it wants to return to the ACC Championship game. Narduzzi realistically needs to win the remainder of his conference in order to win the Coastal Division. It’s now or never for Narduzzi and the Panthers — take each game one at a time and take care of business.

Prediction: Pitt wins 27-17

Virginia Tech is a team the Panthers can and should beat — but so were the Yellow Jackets. After an embarrassing loss in a primetime time slot, Narduzzi will have his team ready to go. 

The Hokies are averaging just more than 310 yards of offense per game, but don’t surrender many sacks either. The Panthers’ defense played uncharacteristically poorly last week against Georgia Tech. It’s hard to imagine that the defense doesn’t return to form against the Hokies.

Pitt has the week to iron out its issues on offense. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and Slovis will get on the same page and the offense will find the endzone a few times against the Hokies.

The matchup with the Hokies will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. at Acrisure Stadium and air on ACC Network.