Pitt football notebook: Week six

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

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In Pitt’s 26-19 win over Virginia on Saturday, ball security and missed opportunities held the Panthers back from a bigger victory.

Both of those issues have plagued Pitt in past games against Georgia Tech — next week’s opponent — particularly in last year’s 56-28 loss, a game in which the Panthers lost six fumbles. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi addressed the miscues, as well as his history with the triple-option offense ­—  the scheme the Yellow Jackets use —  on Monday during his weekly press conference.

History with the triple option

There was a time last season when some expected Michigan State — where Narduzzi was serving as defensive coordinator — to face off against the Georgia Tech in a bowl game.

In that span, Michigan State’s graduate assistants spent substantial time breaking down tape in preparation. The team, on the other hand, did not prepare much before eventually being selected to play in the Cotton Bowl against Baylor.

“We probably spent two days. We had one practice before we got moved over to the Cotton Bowl,” Narduzzi said.

That brief foray into preparation for Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense — which uses three potential runners instead of two — was Narduzzi’s first game planning for a triple-option offense since 2003, when he planned for Ohio University as the defensive coordinator for Miami (Ohio).

Before that, in his time as the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator at Rhode Island — from 1993-1999 — he prepped for Delaware, which ran a similar offense to Georgia Tech.

For Narduzzi’s relatively recent inexperience with the offensive scheme, defensive coordinator Josh Conklin is quite familiar with the triple option, as Wofford and The Citadel both ran the offense while he was on their coaching staffs from 2007 to 2009 and 2010 to 2011, respectively.

“I think he practiced against it every day, so he does have knowledge. That’s why he’s the authority coach this week,” Narduzzi said.

During training camp, Pitt briefly worked on defending the triple option. That time, though, was miniscule in context to the preparation the Panthers will do this week.

“A drop in the bucket of what you need to,” Narduzzi said.

That preparation is necessary, as the Panthers haven’t beaten Georgia Tech yet in ACC play, losing 56-28 last year in the fumble-filled performance, and falling 21-10 the year before.

Coaxing results out of Weah

Over the past two weeks, Jester Weah has moved up the depth chart to function as Pitt’s third receiver. In both weeks, Weah had a chance to make a big play, but squandered the opportunity by dropping the ball.

On a third down at the end of the third quarter at Virginia Tech, Weah dropped a well-placed, deep ball near the sideline, forcing Pitt to punt. This past week against Virginia, Weah beat his defender with a double move, leaving himself wide open for an easy touchdown in the end zone, only to drop a well-placed pass by quarterback Nathan Peterman.

Narduzzi said Weah will eventually thrive, as he and the coaching staff try to keep his spirits up, and want to keep continuity by sticking with the sophomore.

“Just make plays. It comes with time. He’s still young,” Narduzzi said. “As a staff we need to stay with him and just lead him along, not get negative with him.”

Based on his standing as Pitt’s third receiver, it’s clear Pitt’s staff has confidence in Weah, perhaps more than Weah has in himself, Narduzzi said.

“It’s like I told him yesterday, ‘I think we’ve got more confidence in you.’ So he needs to step up and have more confidence in himself,” he said.

As Narduzzi continue to stick with the process of keeping Weah’s confidence up, he hopes Weah will produce results soon, which will create a domino effect.

“Once he makes that one play, watch out, cause he’s going to keep making more. He’s just got to see that he can do it,” Narduzzi said.

The ‘OR’ returns at running back

Last week, Pitt’s two-deep depth chart featured no ‘OR’s’, which designates costarters at a position. That did not last long, as an ‘OR’ returned at the running back position between Qadree Ollison and Chris James.

Last week, the roster listed Ollison as the sole starter at the position. Against Virginia, Ollison rushed 13 times for 49 yards, while James accumulated 94 yards on 11 carries. On top of James’ better statistics, Ollison also fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line while attempting to run in for a touchdown.

That fumble — paired with James’ strong performance — have provided reason for the two being listed as costarters, particularly for a game against an opponent that forced seven Pitt fumbles in their last meeting.

“It probably reflects on the ‘OR’ next to his name,” Narduzzi said.

Narduzzi was also impressed with James’ performance.

“He ran hard, [he was] productive,” Narduzzi said.

Going forward, there will continue to be a strong focus on ball protection. That point of emphasis is especially relevant this week with the Yellow Jackets’ recent history against Pitt.

“We’ve got to secure the football. After last year — the nightmare we had — that can’t happen,” Narduzzi said.

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