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Narduzzi, Pitt ready for deceptive Georgia Tech offense

Pitt+defense+takes+down+Virginia+touchback+Daniel+Hamm+on+Saturday.++Emily+Klenk+%7C+Staff+Photographer
Pitt defense takes down Virginia touchback Daniel Hamm on Saturday.  Emily Klenk | Staff Photographer

Pitt defense takes down Virginia touchback Daniel Hamm on Saturday. Emily Klenk | Staff Photographer

Pitt defense takes down Virginia touchback Daniel Hamm on Saturday. Emily Klenk | Staff Photographer

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

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Some harsh words can describe Pitt’s six-turnover, 56-28 loss to Georgia Tech last season — nightmare, disaster, debacle. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd looked at it in grimmer terms.

“It was like hell,” Boyd said. “It was like going to hell, and you can’t get out.”

On Saturday afternoon at 12:30, Pitt (4-1, 2-0 ACC) will attempt to avenge that loss when it travels to Bobby Dodd Stadium to face a struggling Georgia Tech (2-4, 0-3 ACC) team.

The Yellow Jackets will carry a four-game losing streak into the game, having lost to Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina and Clemson consecutively. Their record, though, betrays the quality of the team, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said.

“They lost four games to some pretty good football teams, they’re [a combined] 19-3,” Narduzzi said. “So if anyone wants to sit there and think they aren’t a good football team, I would argue with you.”

Most prominently, Georgia Tech runs its reputed its triple option offense, which uses three potential runners in a run option formation. The deceptive offense one of the more unique schemes in the country and one that the team’s head coach, Paul Johnson, has showcased for the eight years he’s been with the program.

This makes preparing for Georgia Tech’s offense, which ranks ninth in the country in rushing yards, more challenging than overcoming traditional offenses. One of the GT attack’s trademarks is chop blocks, when an offensive player blocks a defender by hitting his knees. Pitt has practiced chop blocks in preparation for the game.

“We’re going to have to chop block. We’re going to have to get our guys on the ground,” Narduzzi said. “It’s the only realistic way to get it done … We have to give the best [look] we possibly can.”

To give that best look, the Panthers must use their scout team to simulate Georgia Tech’s offense. Dane Jackson, a Pitt freshman cornerback, played the role of Georgia Tech’s quarterback, Justin Thomas, in practice. Thomas has a diverse skillset, throwing for nine touchdowns and running for five and 217 yards on the season.

Given his running ability, Thomas is a tough player to imitate in practice, Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin said. Another challenge comes in duplicating the speed of the triple option offense during practice.

“You’re never going to simulate the speed at which it’s going to happen,” Conklin said. “When they get it rolling, it happens so fast. The blocks are on you so quick that you’ll never simulate that.”

No matter how much Pitt rehearses the offense, Narduzzi said his team won’t get a true taste of it until game time.

“That first quarter will be the best look we’ll get, and then hopefully we can settle down and figure out what it’s like,” Narduzzi said.

Given the nature of the offense, Conklin has stressed to his defense that Georgia Tech will break off some big plays, and regrouping quickly may decide the game’s outcome.

“They’re going to get some drives. They’re going to have some four, five, six, seven play drives because that’s just what they do. That’s who they are,” Conklin said. “So you’ve got to be able to be disciplined enough every snap — snap in and snap out — that you make them make a mistake, and you make them earn every yard.”

On the defensive end, Georgia Tech ranks 55th in the country in yards per game. Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman singled out the overall talent of the unit as a strength.

“[Georgia Tech has] really good defense. They play zone and man. Got fast guys, really athletic guys,” Peterman said. “They’re a talented defense, so it’s going to take our best game to beat them.”

Pitt’s offense is still trying to find its footing, ranking 111th in the country in yards per game. It looked as if the unit was going to get on track last week against Virginia, as Peterman played efficiently and the running backs were effective. Pitt scored 26 points in the game, but a few miscues — such as losing two fumbles — held it back from a better outing.

The offense still emphasizes ball security as a special playing point, Boyd said. To that end, he has unbridled confidence in his team if they can avoid turnovers.

“If we protect the ball, then we’re obviously going to be the winner,” Boyd said.

With the importance of ball security on some players’ minds this week ­— given last season’s game against Georgia Tech — senior tight end JP Holtz prefers to keep his focus off past experience.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to look back on that and say ‘is this going to happen again,’” Holtz said. “We’re looking past it. It’s a new team this year.”

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Narduzzi, Pitt ready for deceptive Georgia Tech offense