Pitt football notebook: Week nine


Lafayette Pitts takes down Tar Heels' wide receiver, Mack Hollins on Thursday's game. Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

By Chris Puzia / Assistant Sports Editor

After Pitt’s 26-19 loss to North Carolina on Thursday knocked the then-No. 23 Panthers out of the AP Top 25 ranking, head coach Pat Narduzzi said the team has already moved on to its next contest.

Its schedule doesn’t let up this week, as the Panthers (6-2, 4-1 ACC) host No. 8 Notre Dame (7-1) on Saturday at noon.

“We had our usual Sunday night meeting, gathered the boys together,” Narduzzi said. “We’re ready to move on.”

In his Monday afternoon press conference, the first-year head coach also talked about pressuring the quarterback, starting off games faster and finding roles for veteran players.

Bringing the pressure

Narduzzi pointed to the defense’s inability to pressure North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams as a major setback to the team’s gameplan. He said sacks often come down to executing at the right moments.

“It’s called make a play, M.A.P. It’s one of the things that we talk about all the time,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve had opportunities every week to go and clean it up, we just have to make plays.”

After recording 21 sacks in their first five games of the season, the Panthers have managed just one in the past three weeks, which came on Oct. 17 against Georgia Tech.

“It’s my job to get them [to the quarterback], it’s [defensive coordinator Josh] Conklin’s job to get them there, but give [Williams] credit for sidestepping them and making them miss.”

Senior Darryl Render said the defensive line is a few minor adjustments away from ensuring that the sack totals return to what they were early in the season.

“It’s just the little things, guys just have to focus on making the little things work,” Render said. “Like we want to look at the difference in an inch or a half-inch that allows us to get there.”

Slow out of the gate

Reflecting on the team’s only Thursday night game of the season, Narduzzi said the short week may have contributed to what he said was a lethargic first half Pitt team against UNC.

“We had a little more emotion in the second half. I didn’t see much celebrating going on in the first half, but maybe there wasn’t much to celebrate,” Narduzzi said. “I didn’t feel like we had the energy and passion we needed to have in the first half.”

Pitt’s coach added that the short week alters his preparation schedule, and that he gave the team some time off after the previous win at Syracuse.

“The first person to take the blame is me,” Narduzzi said. “Did I have them prepared? We gave them some time off to have a chance to be fresh, so what’s right? How did North Carolina practice? I don’t know.”

Roles for the veterans

Last season’s starting quarterback, Chad Voytik, has slowly seen a decreased role in this year’s offense, while Narduzzi removed senior corner Lafayette Pitts late in Thursday’s loss after several misplays. But the coach said both players still will contribute to the team in varying fashions.

“Obviously [Voytik’s role] has diminished a little bit as we’ve gone on, but he’ll have a role this week,” Narduzzi said. “He’s got a role every week. Right now, he’s the backup quarterback. You can be in the spotlight real quick, so you have to be ready to go.”

He added that Pitts will return to the starting secondary against Notre Dame this week, and the corner’s removal came from poor recent play that night, not as part of a larger trend.

“I anticipate him being back as a starter,” Narduzzi said. “He’s a senior captain for us, he’s had a great year for us. He wasn’t playing well at that point, so it was better to get another guy out there, and Ryan Lewis came in and did well. One time he lost his leverage, he’s just got to stay on the inside shoulder.”

The coach said that part of Pitts’ and the whole defense’s struggles came back to coaching, not just player mistakes.

“There’s some things as coaches we didn’t do well enough, either,” Narduzzi said. “It starts with me, and we’ve got to find better ways to make our kids successful.”

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