Pressed with another road game and injuries at the defensive tackle position, head coach Pat Narduzzi was thrilled with the way his team performed against Duke last Saturday after two straight losses.
Narduzzi spoke about his team’s output against the Blue Devils, as well as his quarterback’s success in limiting mistakes, in his weekly press conference Monday.
Replacement defensive tackles
With defensive tackles Tyrique Jarrett and Mark Scarpinato out due to unspecified injuries, the team has called upon some inexperienced players to play more significantly during the past two games.
Sophomores Justin Moody and Jeremiah Taleni have been the two to take on the brunt of the snaps for their injured teammates. Against Notre Dame, Narduzzi was lukewarm about their performance, while against Duke, he saw improvement.
“After watching the tape, they did a nice job. I’m happy for those guys to get those reps,” Narduzzi said.
Moody and Taleni helped in holding Duke’s rushing attack to just 113 yards. Given their previous limited playing time, Narduzzi recognizes the challenges that come with suddenly increased levels of responsibility.
“It’s tough. That was really their first full time action where it was meaningful time,” Narduzzi said.
With the arrow seemingly pointing up for the two tackles, Narduzzi is a bit more optimistic for next season, when Scarpinato, along with tackles Darryl Render and K.K. Mosley-Smith, will graduate.
“We were happy with where they both were. It gives you two returning guys for next year,” Narduzzi said. “They’re going to be good players in the ACC that can help us win football games.”
Peterman protecting the football
When asked about quarterback Nathan Peterman’s success in limiting turnovers, Narduzzi knocked on his wooden podium before answering the question.
Certainly, though, it isn’t just luck that has allowed Pitt’s signal caller to seldom give the ball away.
Against Duke, Peterman threw three touchdowns and zero interceptions. On the season, Peterman’s touchdown to interception ratio stands at 14-to-4.
Narduzzi and his staff realize how important it is to avoid turnovers, which has helped contribute to success in that department, Narduzzi said.
“Our offensive staff emphasizes it. We just think it’s so important,” Narduzzi said. “Such a huge key in winning football games is holding onto the football and not giving it to them.”
Getting that message across has been especially pertinent recently for safety Jordan Whitehead, who has taken some snaps at running back the past two weeks. Since holding on to the ball isn’t something that is often important for a safety, that message is a new one for Whitehead.
“You gain one yard and we have the ball, as opposed to gaining 10 and losing the ball. It’s critical for a guy that’s not [emphasized] in ball security,” Narduzzi said.
Still, the failures stick out just as much as the successes for Narduzzi. In a seven point loss to North Carolina three games ago, Pitt’s sole turnover in the game — a lost fumble — looms large.
“The one turnover we had turned into seven points which is the seven points we get beat by,” Narduzzi said.
Toughing it out
For all of what led to a 31-13 win against Duke, Narduzzi mentioned the intangibles just as much as the tangibles in reasons for the win.
“I think our kids came out and played with great toughness, maybe the most toughness they’ve had this year,” Narduzzi said.
That toughness, Narduzzi said, is largely important every week in contributing towards a win.
“It’s that key ingredient every Saturday. Regardless if you have success or not, you better have it to play this game,” Narduzzi said.
In road games, toughness is mentioned even more as reasons for why a team wins or loses. With the Duke win, Pitt will finish 5-1 on the road. Narduzzi can’t pinpoint one specific reason why his team has had so much success away from home or why they’ve remained mentally tough in those games.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Narduzzi said.
One reason that Narduzzi did mention, though, is his team’s mindset to treat every game the same. Though Narduzzi did concede that he’ll look and comment on his team’s schedule behind closed doors, he stresses not to let the opponent or stadium affect his team’s mindset.
“You play it one game at a time, and you don’t worry about where it is,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t think where it is as important as who it is and how you prepare for the game.”