Narduzzi and company not taking 1-3 Cavaliers lightly for homecoming weekend


Qadree Ollison finds a hole. Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Pitt head football coach Pat Narduzzi doesn’t put special emphasis on any game — even in the case of Pitt’s Saturday homecoming game against Univeristy of Virginia.

“It will be my first homecoming game here, but again, it’s another game,” Narduzzi said. “Just like the home opener’s another game and playing down at Virginia Tech — first ACC game — is another game.”

The goal remains the same each week — winning, no matter the opponent or its record. Against a Virginia (1-3) team that’s had its fair share of troubles thus far — the Cavaliers have only beaten FCS school William and Mary this season — the Panthers (3-1) will hope to avoid a disappointing loss in the 12:30 game.

After a road win against Virginia Tech, Narduzzi stressed that his team can always get better.

“It might look good on game day, but the eye in the sky doesn’t lie, and obviously you see a ton of things you’d like to be done a lot better in all areas,” Narduzzi said.

Virginia has accumulated a sole win in its four games this season, losing against UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State, all of which are ranked in the AP Top 25. Narduzzi recognized the difficulty of the Cavaliers’ schedule factoring into their sub -.500 record.

“They’ve had it rough so far with the people they’ve played,” Narduzzi said.

In their contest last year, Virginia beat Pitt 24-19. Virginia’s defense this season, wide receiver Tyler Boyd said, is very similar to last year’s unit.

“It’s pretty much the same as last year. They’re more of a zone defense,” Boyd said.

That defense, though, is having a rough start, submitting 445 yards a game, good for 109th in the country.

Still, quarterback Nathan Peterman will not overlook Virginia’s defense, specifically the corners, Maurice Canady and Tim Harris, who both stand at 6-feet-2-inches.

“Real big up front and their corners are also tall guys, very rangy,” Peterman said.

In the front seven, Virginia shows three players who have had success rushing the passer. Sophomore middle linebacker Micah Kiser has sacked the quarterback 4.5 times, ranking 14th in the country. Senior defensive tackle David Dean and senior linebacker Mike Moore have 2.5 and two sacks, respectively.

Virginia’s offense hasn’t been able to stay on the field to help its defense rest, ranking 106th in yards per game. Junior quarterback Matt Johns has had difficulty with ball security, throwing six interceptions to his eight touchdowns. Taquan Mizzell, Virginia’s junior starting running back, is a focal point of the offense.

“He’s a guy we need to keep an eye on no matter where he is,” Narduzzi said.

Specifically, Pitt will need to stay locked on to Mizzell in the passing game, especially on screen passes. As a defense that sends lots of pressure to the backfield, the Panthers must balance their aggressiveness with locating Mizzell. He’s rushed for 157 yards and caught 22 balls for 292 yards.

“We’ve got to be careful. We’ll have our pressure in, but we’ve got to be smart. Virginia loves to run screens,” Narduzzi said.

That pressure has produced a Panthers defense that ranks fourth in the country in yards allowed per game and ninth in total sacks. This success and high defensive ranking mean little to Pitt, defensive tackle Mark Scarpinato said.

“We don’t care [about national statistics rankings]. Coach Duzz said, ‘they don’t give out middle of the season awards,’” Scarpinato said. “When we win whatever bowl we win — when we win the ACC Championship — then you can ask that question and we’ll say, ‘we’re celebrating, we’re having a beer.’ But until that happens, we don’t care.”


Though he’s been pleased with his defense thus far, defensive coordinator Josh Conklin still thinks it can improve, specifically in filling gaps in run defense and making his corners more aggressive.

For the impressiveness of the defensive unit, the offense has had its difficulties, ranking 116th in yards per game. Part of improving that unit will come in consistency in the run game, which has been up and down since star running back James Conner’s presumed season-ending injury.

Against Virginia Tech, the numbers were up, as the team accumulated 166 rushing yards, 122 coming from running back Qadree Ollison. Part of that success came in clean fundamentals, center Artie Rowell said.

“We played with such lower pad level and more force,” Rowell said.

In the passing game, Pitt will try to establish a stronger presence in its deep throws.

“We’ll hit a few of them. It’s nice to win without them, but we’ll hit them when we need to,” Narduzzi said.

A successful passing game will help rally the Pitt crowd, an audience Narduzzi is happy to return to after three consecutive road games.

“We’re going to enjoy it,” Narduzzi said. “Homecoming game, get in front of our hometown crowd and try to put on a show.”