Narduzzi’s defensive system continues to suppress, impress

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Narduzzi’s defensive system continues to suppress, impress

Sophomore Avonte Maddox takes down defender I’tavious Harvin.  Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore Avonte Maddox takes down defender I’tavious Harvin. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore Avonte Maddox takes down defender I’tavious Harvin. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore Avonte Maddox takes down defender I’tavious Harvin. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

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BLACKSBURG, Virginia — While Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman spends most of his time studying and reading opposing defenses, after Saturday’s win, he gave a quick analysis of his own team’s unit.

“Our defense is really a championship-level defense. It’s great to have them,” Peterman said.

It is still unclear whether overconfidence clouded Peterman’s statement or  the unit will fulfill his lofty expectations. Regardless, the early returns of first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi’s defense have sparked optimism — particularly after the dominant display on Saturday, when Pitt beat Virginia Tech on the road, 17-13.

The Panthers racked up seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss and three interceptions in the win. They held the Hokies to 100 total yards, the lowest total for Virginia Tech in a single game since 1987. That defensive performance marked the second time this season Pitt has held an opponent to 110 total yards or fewer — a feat it had accomplished only twice in its previous 18 seasons.

According to the players, Narduzzi’s scheme of blitzing and pressuring the quarterback has producedthe success.

“One word — great,” sophomore cornerback Avonte Maddox said. “It’s just easy. It’s a playmaking defense. If you do your key, anybody can make a play.”

An orchestra of different players stepped up for the Panthers’ defense, as seven different Panthers recorded or assisted on one of the team’s seven sacks. The three interceptions came via three different players.

Narduzzi said his team can recreate this type of performance every week.

“We feel we can get after a quarterback,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t care who it is.”

Maddox said the improved pass rush has made play for defensive backs easier.

“[The pass rush] helps the whole defense out,” Maddox said. “Getting pressure on the quarterback, it makes them rush the throws, and it’s not gonna be a good throw, it’s gonna be a bad throw. And that sets us up for picks.”

Narduzzi’s emphasis on simplifying the game through fewer formation changes and more man-to-man coverage for his players has helped bring an improved tenacity to the unit — a gameplan he repeated on Saturday after the win.

“It’s just focusing on the fundamentals,” Narduzzi said. “It’s not that hard of a game if you just do the little things right. Don’t panic at the end of the game. It’s not just giving effort. You’ve got to be smart.”

While Saturday’s performance was the crown jewel of the season so far for the unit, the Panthers’ defense has shined all season, as it ranks highly nationally in numerous categories — including fourth in average total yards per game and ninth in sacks.

With that continued success has come a sense of momentum for Pitt.

“They’ve got confidence right now,” Narduzzi said of his defense. “I think they understand the defense is not going to change a whole bunch in eight weeks. It’s going to stay the same. We’ve just got to continue to adjust it for the different offense we see weekly.”

This confidence has created a new sense of enjoyment in games for the defense, which ranked 28th in yards per game and 103rd in sacks just one year ago, under the direction of former defensive coordinator Matt House.

“I believe we’re having fun,” Maddox said about the difference a year has made. “Every time we come out there, we’re having fun. At practice we’re having fun. In a game it’s even more fun.”

That fun, he said, stems from the simplicity.

“Coach Narduzzi’s defense, it’s not complicated,” Maddox said. “Just got to do our jobs, play our keys, read our keys and it’s easy to get it done.”

Pitt’s next game is Saturday, when the Panthers face the Virginia Cavaliers at Heinz Field for their annual homecoming game. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m.

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