PAT NARDUZZI: Well, one of my old coaches texted me that I’ve got a lot of respect for, and he said, the sun will come up the next day, and it did. It didn’t come out and shine very bright, I can tell you that, but it did get lighter out.
But we moved on last night from the Penn State game, I guess, so I’ll move on with it today with you guys because our focus is all on the first ACC game of the year in Georgia Tech. We can’t have a hangover from what last week was, and we’ve got to do a great job as a staff just to let that go and move on to the next week, which becomes the most important game of the year, really. It’s going to be how we respond after the adversity we had Saturday. But when you look at that game as a whole, as I look at the tape and we watch it as a staff, all three phases of it, when you watch the first half, I mean, you take out the last 59 seconds and one punt, we’re right where we need to be in the first half, and it’s a tale of two games — as I told our kids, two halves I should say, or you can call it two games. The first half was a game and the second half was a whole different ballgame. And our kids just didn’t respond to adversity, our coaches didn’t respond.
Like I said Saturday night, or Sunday morning, whatever time it was, when we talked, it comes down to the coaches and it starts right with me. So we didn’t finish it.
Some things — some interesting just notes that I think are important to understand in the whole thing is it’s hard to get in the flow of the game when field position is such a critical thing. We talk about it being critical to winning, and in the second — first half it’s pretty much even, 30 yards, we’re starting at the 30, they’re starting at the 30, everything is even, all of a sudden the score is pretty even, although we got some miscues, holding snaps and all those things, holding a field goal or extra point. We’ve got issues, even our snaps were high, so we can talk about the kick, we can talk about the holder. We can talk about the snapper, too, and there was nothing wrong with him. But besides all that, field position became so critical in the second half. As you saw, that’s us by ourselves.
Their starting field position in the second half was the 46-yard line. That was their average for the whole entire second half. So they got the ball basically at the 50-yard line, while our average field position was at the 18-yard line. It’s hard to recover from that, and it’s a mental thing, and we’ve got to — just like I told the offense, I don’t care where we are; if we can be at the 1 every snap, we have to ignore where we are and we’ve got to move. We’ve got to get the ball — it doesn’t matter.
You can’t — it’s the same thing we talked defensively, sudden change wise we’ve got to be better on sudden changes. Sudden change wherever it is, we coach that up all the time. A sudden change, hey, they got the ball across the 50. They got a short field; how are we going to respond. Any time there’s a sudden change, our guys are screaming sudden change on defense and we huddle up and we get together and we’ve got to band together and stop them. That’s things that we did not do well, and we were put in a lot of circumstances then.
The fourth quarter they had the ball at the average 50-yard line. So I think field position obviously was critical. Our penalties were lopsided 4 to 14, and just some critical ones. There’s two 3rd down penalties. We touched on every one of them with our kids last night, two 3rd down and 10, and we’ve got them behind the sticks defensively. All of a sudden we got a big play, we got a sack, we got a play made, but it’s a grabbing of a facemask or whatever it maybe be or targeting or late hit, whatever you want it call it on a football. It’s not like we’re not there, we’re making plays, but we don’t finish it the right way, and you’ve got to finish the game, you’ve got to finish the play, and you’ve got to do it within the confines — those were two good calls, and we didn’t do it right. You can’t have critical penalties, critical errors on 3rd down.
And then the last thing on a positive note is you go, what happened. Again, it starts and ends with me. We rushed for 200 whatever 25, 30 yards in the game. We rushed for 214 in the first half, guys. But to me it’s like — you watch the tape, they didn’t do anything different. Did they play harder on defense over there? Maybe, I don’t know. I can’t gauge their tempo. But I know structurally when you watch the tape, you don’t see much of a difference. Maybe they brought a little bit more field blitz, but we prepared for that, so it’s not like it was something new that we hadn’t seen. But how do you rush for 214 in the first half and not do it in the second half, and it’s because you’re backed up against the field feeling like, oh, gosh, instead of being, it doesn’t matter, and we’ve got to have that type of attitude coming in.
Obviously Paul Johnson is coming in with that vaunted option game, and it’s something that we have to be well, well prepared for. We’ve taken periods to work on the option throughout camp almost every day I would say, at least 80 percent of every practice out there we spent somewhere between 10 or 15 minutes on that in camp and spent a lot of time there. We have to prepare for that side of the ballgame. Got to prepare for two quarterbacks. TaQuon who got out of the game but came back and threw the ball late in the game, and then the Tobias kid, the backup quarterback came in and ran it really good. So they’ve got dangerous weapons at all spots.
And defensively the same way; I think they’ve got nine returning starters on offense, five on defense, and they’re athletic from the front end to the back end. New defensive coordinator down there, a 3-4 guy as opposed to Ted Roof that was down there who was a great football coach, but Coach Woody is another great football coach that plays an aggressive style of defense. It will be a different front than our offense will see this week and different adjustments for everybody, so we’ll have to react well to that. With that, I’ll open it up for questions.
Q. How do you get the passing game going this week?
PAT NARDUZZI: Well, if there’s not a monsoon or — we’ve got to get it going. It starts with the protection and making sure Kenny feels confident in the pocket. And again, you can point to every direction. The first thing is I think — I’ve told you guys at the beginning, Kenny pressed a little bit. He feels like it’s on his shoulders. He’s got to relax and just do his job, so that’s the message we’ve got for him is — like he said, that’s his third start, guys, and you’re playing in a monsoon, different conditions. Add the elements in there, add the big-game atmosphere, add 8:00 at night, add — he feels like he’s the man, he’s got to do it all, and he’s not all by himself there, and none of us are. We’re not all by ourselves. We have a lot of support. There’s 11 guys on the field every play, and there’s a bunch of guys that gotta be there, coaching wise, manager wise and obviously the other 100 players that are sitting on the sideline watching. We all have to be there to support him. So he’s not by himself. He’s got to learn just to relax in the pocket, and I think he’ll turn — it’s just a different atmosphere. That’s what I told you, when it comes to experience, I think someone asked me the question on Thursday, what’s the difference between a McSorley and a Pickett? Game experience, and you can’t replace that, and we can’t force-feed it down anybody’s throat.
That’s not his fault. That is where he is, and he’s a great quarterback, and I’ve got a lot of faith in him, and he will be great, and he will be better this week, I promise you. It’s just the first time going through something like that, and I think, again, he internalized it and tried to put more pressure on him. He can’t do that, and we can’t do that as coaches, either.
Q. When you looked at the tape, were there receivers open?
PAT NARDUZZI: There was receivers open. There was receivers open. I don’t know if he gave it as much time as he needed to, but there was receivers open, yes.
Q. You said Saturday night it’s where we are right now after a game like that. Did you think the program would be further along after three years?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, we’re not going to measure anything after a game, okay, one game, two games, three games. Nothing is measured like that. You are where you are. Everybody has got goals, but every week we’ve got — this is the most important game, this is the most important game, and Georgia Tech is the most important game right now, and goals are great things to talk about during summer camp, but when you get to this time of year, it’s about — we break down every day, beat Georgia Tech. Okay, that’s what we — during the season, that’s what we do. This week it’s Georgia Tech, and that’s our focus. We’re not worried about — game 1 doesn’t matter, and game 2 doesn’t matter. I can guarantee you that. The only thing that matters is game 3 and Georgia Tech.
Q. Teams face adversity all the time, but are you disappointed or surprised maybe that your team didn’t respond better in the second half?
PAT NARDUZZI: No question about it. You know, sometimes there’s an avalanche. Sometimes you can’t control emotions. Again, at different positions, you’re younger than others, and guys respond differently. Again, it’s the job of our coaches to get those guys revved up and get them ready to go when they step on the field and get them back refocused on the sideline. That’s why I say, it starts with us. We’ve got to somehow get them back.
We talked about offense backed up all the way against the goal line here and talked about the defense being backed up in sudden change. Talk about how far — we’ve got to go, what, 82 yards on every drive, they’ve got to go 50 yards on every drive, and your defense is put in a bind, too, and it’s a double-edged sword, and we got both ends of that, and we did not take care — we didn’t help ourselves by getting 1st downs, we didn’t help ourselves by getting good punts, and we hurt ourselves by getting penalties and muffing putts, and that’ll just — it’s like an avalanche. When it rains, it pours.
Q. Are you disappointed that your fifth-year seniors didn’t play better?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, but when you look at the fifth-year seniors, did they have any part in some of the things? Probably not. When you look at the critical errors, it’s young guys at critical positions. We don’t have Ryan Winslow holding, we don’t have Ryan Winslow punting. We have a new — every year is a different football team, so it’s a great point. It’s like you look at the offensive line, we did blow some holes open up in the first half. 214 yards is a lot of yards rushing. If we match that in the second half, just do the same thing, 400 yards rushing, you’ll probably win the game, okay, when you rush for 400 yards. So you look at — every team is different, and there’s young guys and older guys. It’s not like you have a team of fifty years and all the people stepping out on the field are fifth-year seniors.
Q. Were you satisfied with the team’s effort throughout the game?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, no question about it. Right there, I talked to them last night about it. I have no doubts they played hard. Did they play smart? Maybe not. Did they have as much knowledge as they need? No. Did we have busts? Yes, but we’re going to have them every game. But they played with effort. You can watch all the way until the end. You can watch the last field goal block where sometimes I’ve seen teams take plays off. For the last field goal block, it’s not like they’re just standing there watching the ball go through the uprights. They’re coming off the ball, trying to get — so there was an effort. I’ll never question their effort.
Q. You did say [leading up to Penn State] ‘I understand that this week is not like every week.’ How do you kind of equate that with not every outcome is treated any differently? That a loss to a rival isn’t different than a loss to a team that maybe you don’t have that kind of history with.
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, a loss is a loss. It doesn’t matter if it’s to a rival or to the worst team in the country. It doesn’t matter. I think they all feel the same to me. They really do. They all hurt. I haven’t been in a loss that hasn’t hurt me and made you lose sleep or not want to eat. I can tell you that right now; they all hurt. I don’t care what they are. Who doesn’t matter? And I think that’s the biggest thing. So they all hurt. You’ve got to get over every one of them. I don’t think who it is matters. I really don’t.
Q. When you’ve got young kids and this is maybe their first experience in that environment, now you’ve got to go play a completely different kind of opponent six, seven days later, is that a maturity test maybe?
PAT NARDUZZI: It’s going to be. It’s going to be a maturity test. It’s going to be a coaching test. It’s going to be a test, period. They’re all tests. How we respond is going to be the most important thing, and we’ve got to focus on the details as we talked last night. Like I said, there are some good things that happen in that game, and you go, but it’s just one guy here or there, one guy on offense, and it just takes one, one guy misses a block or one guy can’t block the three-technique or there’s a miscommunication up front where we called this and we called a different — won’t get into the names, but if we make a front call or make a blocking call and all of a sudden it’s the wrong one or I thought it was on the backside, it’s on the front side, it causes you a problem. So it’s communication.
Q. After a loss like that, does it help to just take a step back and look at the big picture, how it has no bearing on what you want to achieve in the ACC, things like that?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, no question about it. We always talk about you make your biggest improvement from the first week to the second week, okay, and I kind of looked at it myself last night like, maybe we made improvements, maybe we didn’t. It’s hard sometimes to tell because you played Albany in the opener and all of a sudden you’re playing a top-15 team, a good football team, and give Penn State their due; they came in and played hard. They played with passion.
But we didn’t do what we had to do. Maybe we’ll make our biggest improvement from game 2 to game 3 because we’ve been there. I’m looking maybe for that. I don’t know if more often you can say you make your biggest improvement from 2 to 3, but we need to make a bigger improvement on the big stage, and Georgia Tech is a good football team with lots of speed.
Q. Paris Ford didn’t play Saturday. For you as coaches, what led to that decision?
PAT NARDUZZI: It goes into everything. Number one, Paris Ford, I love that kid. He’s going to be a great football player. I think too often the media makes bigger deals out of guys playing or not playing. Not every — 11 guys get to play, okay, and when you’ve got older guys out there that have more experience and you’re playing in a big game, you guys will be the first one if he fails to be screaming at him like why was Paris Ford not in there and why was Dane not in there. So we can go back and forth. Dane didn’t play in the opener, and his reps—we’re playing in a big football game, and we need to win the football game, which is just like every week. And really, it goes for everybody. I love this entire football team. There’s not a guy in this room that I don’t love, and I’d love to see everybody play. But it comes down to 11 guys get to play each time, and you earn your reps during the practice week.
He’s still learning, guys. It’s not easy to play. There’s a lot of different things you have to adjust to, and he’s a smart kid, and he’s picking it up better and better. I’m so glad we got to get his feet wet in the Albany game, but we can’t have busts in the back end, and pretty much we were pretty clean back there as far as some of the coverages we did. Obviously, there’s always coverage beaters with whatever it is, with different splits and different calls, and it’s good for this, maybe not good for that. Nothing is ever going to be perfect back there. But we can’t have busts.
I couldn’t look myself — as much as we talk about it starts with me and the coaches, I can’t look at the rest of those guys if I’m playing a guy that I love back there that’s going to be a great player and play him in front of this other guy up here that’s pretty good just because I love him. It comes down to practice well, and the guys that practice well knows what they’re doing every snap because even the guys that know what they’re doing every snap and practice well, they make mistakes, too. Just like we coach every day, coaches make mistakes, too. Even though we coach and are there every day. So even with the experience and the knowledge, we have in here as coaches and players, sometimes you’re still going to make mistakes. But if you’re making mistakes in practice, too, is it three practice mistakes going to equal six on game day? That’s fatal.
Q. What did you say to 98 [Christodoulou] after the game? He obviously didn’t have a good game. Seemed like he lost his confidence.
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, he probably lost his — it’s a tough — it’s not easy. Go back, guys, and watch — here he is standing back here, but we’ll watch where that ball was snapped now. You’re talking about in the rain, and he’s got to come over here to get the snap. And again, it’s wet. It did rain Saturday. And you look at the problems, the chaos that happened in the NFL with the rain. And I guess I didn’t do a good enough job getting more [preparation for] rain, rain, rain. We went out in camp and got some, and we did wet ball drills last week, as well. But it’s not easy. I mean, boom, he stepped over here, caught it and then bobbled it. But you’re talking about a punter likes that ball right there on his right thigh board, and all of sudden he’s getting over here. When he got his best punt — go back and watch the tape; his best punt was when the ball was snapped right where we want it, and he doesn’t have to change his whole mechanics. It’s like a golfer. It’s like who’s that one golfer that runs up and hits it. That ain’t easy to do if anybody has tried it. So it’s a different swing every time based on it. So Kirk, we’ve got a lot of confidence in him, and he’ll rebound. He’s a tough kid, he’s an older kid, and the important thing is he went back out there and caught them and punted them after that. If he either dropped one or did it again or did it again, I would really worry, but he came back in those awful elements and got it done.
Q. Besides adjusting from the weather to clean up some mistakes, what other adjustments do you want to make to win the field position battle?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, move the football in the second half. The five three-and-outs or whatever it was back-to-back-to-back-to-back can’t happen. So we’ve got to move the ball in the second half, and that’s an attitude that we’ve got to take going out there. We get — here’s the issue: You get backed up one time, and we talk about a coming-out win is getting two 1st downs. You’ve got to change the field position. If you go three-and-out and you punt it again, you’re just going to keep getting into that same war there that it’s tough to — especially versus a good football team. And it won’t be easy against Georgia Tech. If we go three-and-out against Georgia Tech, it’s going to be an issue. I can tell you that right now.
Q. In the first half on the 4th-and-3, were you trying to draw the defense offsides?
PAT NARDUZZI: No, we weren’t.
Q. Just trying to run the ball?
PAT NARDUZZI: Uh-huh.
Q. I know you want to protect your players. I know there was some confusion on the flag where Elijah got called for 12 men on the field. Would you have appreciated — kind of stated your case, give him warning and then the flag came almost immediately after that? In that scenario would you like some sort of chance to state your case and then step back —
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, there was no warning.
Q. Going forward, I guess, I know you’re a passionate guy —
PAT NARDUZZI: I told the guys, I said, we went through all the penalties and I put a penalty report up there on the overhead, and it’s got ‘Joe’ and ‘Fred’ and Narduzzi is on there. I told them, ‘I will not get one again.’ You get me once, but I’m disciplined enough; I’ve been on the field before and never got a penalty. My fault. Dumb.
I apologized to our kids last night. It’s not smart on my part. Luckily they had to punt the ball still. But there was no warning, and that substitution was operated wrong.
Q. Jordan Whitehead was always the big player against Georgia Tech coming out and defending the run. Is there a safety this year that kind of excels against the triple option?
PAT NARDUZZI: They’d all better. If we’ve got one, they’re going the other way, okay. But we had a personnel discussion this morning just talking about who. Just like who’s going to make the play. Who’s going to be that guy that’s — because you’d better have four DB’s because it’s going to be on the edge. All 11 guys got to be able to tackle, okay. I mean, I think it’s important to understand that if you’re on the field, you’re going to get — they’re going to make you tackle, period. They’re going to make you take on blocks, whether it’s to the field or to the boundary. They’re going to be equal whether they run the option field or the boundary, and DB’s are going to be very active in the run game, so they’d better all be good.
Is there a guy that’s been especially good? You’d have to say Dennis Briggs has made some good hits, Dane Jackson has been good. Phil Campbell has been good. Damar Hamlin has been a slippery guy. Damar has played good against, I believe, Georgia Tech. We all need to play good and we need backups to play good, too.
Q. How much experience does [new defensive coordinator] Randy Bates have against a triple-option team like that?
PAT NARDUZZI: We spent a lot of time this summer on it, I can tell you that. He coached at Navy, he’s been around some of the triple teams, so he’s got quite a bit of knowledge. It’s been a while since being at Northwestern, but he’s got a lot of help in that room with Charlie Partridge and Rob Harley.
Q. How similar is the Georgia Tech defense to the 3-4 you see from Virginia?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, I’d say they’re all — all 3-4s are about the same. I don’t think they’re a big pressure team. But you always prepare for pressure. If they did it once, we’re going to prepare for it. I would assume we’ll see maybe some of the similar stuff maybe you saw last weekend out of the 3-4. The thing about the 3-4 is it’s so multiple in who you can blitz and when you can blitz, but a 3-4 is a 3-4. If you look at an even front, they’re pretty much very similar. They have different nuances that they will get into it.
Q. Who’s your holder this week?
PAT NARDUZZI: Can you hold? I don’t know, but that’s why we practice. We’re going to see who holds the best this week. Good question.
• Pitt opens Atlantic Coast Conference play when it hosts Georgia Tech. The Panthers and Yellow Jackets are annual foes as members of the Coastal Division.
• Since joining the ACC in 2013, the Panthers are 2-3 in conference openers. Pitt has lost its initial ACC game each of the last two seasons, including a 35-17 setback to Georgia Tech in Atlanta last year.
• Pitt will be playing its third home game in as many weeks. This is the first time the Panthers have opened a season with three consecutive home games since 2008. This century, that scheduling quirk has occurred four total times (2001 and 2004).
• Both teams enter ACC play coming off disappointing outings. Pitt trailed Penn State at intermission, 14-6, but crumbled in the second half, 51-6. Georgia Tech led host USF by 10 in the fourth quarter but three unanswered touchdowns resulted in a 49-38 defeat.
• Two of the Panthers’ past three encounters with Georgia Tech came down to late field goals. Pitt triumphed in 2015 (31-28) and 2016 (37-34) on game-winning field goals by Chris Blewitt, who graduated as the school’s all-time leading kick scorer.
• Senior tailback Qadree Ollison is off to a strong start to his final season. Ollison rushed for a game-high 119 yards on 21 carries (5.7 avg.) against Penn State. He is averaging 96 yards per game.
• Senior middle linebacker Quintin Wirginis is coming off the most productive game of his career. Wirginis, whose 2017 season was lost to injury, compiled nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack against Penn State.
• Sophomore defensive end Rashad Weaver is also emerging as a playmaker. Weaver totaled four stops, 1.5 TFLs, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble against Penn State.
This is the 13th meeting between Pitt and Georgia Tech in a series that began in 1918…Pitt leads the overall series, 7-5, and has won two of the past three meetings with the Yellow Jackets…the Panthers are 4-1 in games played in Pittsburgh and 3-2 in Atlanta…Pitt and Georgia Tech have twice met in bowl games with the Yellow Jackets winning each time…Georgia Tech defeated the Panthers in the Jan. 2, 1956 Sugar Bowl (7-0) and the Dec. 29, 1956 Gator Bowl (21-14)…the 2018 game marks the sixth Atlantic Coast Conference encounter between the two schools…Georgia Tech leads the ACC series, 3-2…the Yellow Jackets beat visiting Pitt last year, 35-17…Pitt won both the 2015 and 2016 contests courtesy of late field goals by the graduated Chris Blewitt…in 2016, Blewitt’s 31-yard field goal as time expired gave Pitt a 37-34 win at Heinz Field…in 2015, Blewitt boomed a school-record 56-yard field goal with 1:11 left for a 31-28 victory in Atlanta…the initial three games of the series from 1918-20 were all played in Pittsburgh…led by legendary coach Glenn “Pop” Warner, Pitt won each of those three contests by an aggregate score of 58-9…before the 2013 revival of the series, the two schools had not played since a pair of games at Georgia Tech in the 1970s…in 1976, Tony Dorsett scored three touchdowns as Pitt routed the host Yellow Jackets, 42-14…under the direction of Coach John Majors, Pitt would go 12-0 in 1976 and claim the national championship, while Dorsett would win the Heisman Trophy…the Panthers also defeated Georgia Tech, 27-17, in Atlanta during the 1974 season.
Pitt-North Carolina Kickoff Time Announced
PITTSBURGH—Pitt’s September 22 game at North Carolina will kick off at 12:20 p.m., and be shown on television in the Pittsburgh market on WTAE-TV, Channel 4. A complete listing of all ACC Network television market clearances will be provided at a later date.
The Panthers’ remaining 2018 schedule with announced television coverage and kickoff times:
Sept. 15: Georgia Tech* (RSN/AT&T SportsNet), 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 22: at North Carolina* (ACC Network/WTAE), 12:20 p.m.