HEAD COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Obviously a great week. At least a lot better Sunday this Sunday than last week. Some positives when you watch the tape against a good Georgia Tech team.
The special teams was night and day from what it was a week ago. We made three big-time plays on special teams, which we talked about with our guys about making plays. And the first time we put our punt return team on the field. I think that’s second offensive series on a fourth and long, and Jimmy Medure comes up with a big-time play. His old defensive days helping out, obviously, there. Stocker downing the ball inside the one-yard line was a gigantic play. Makes them have to go 99, whether they score or not they ate up a lot of clock to go that far.
And the hands team at the end was a huge play, getting the ball back. Some great blocking going on on that play as well, which allowed the ball to go out of bounds with a great bounce. They couldn’t have asked for a bigger kick than the one they’ve got.
Defensively, you look at really what we did to them in the first half, it’s only been two other teams that you look at in the last 39 games that played as good as our Panthers played this weekend. They were the likes of defenses like Clemson and Georgia. You look at the last 39 game against them, shutout in the first half, only Georgia and Clemson has done that to them. The same thing, holding them to 19 points, in the last 39 games, only happened probably a handful of times. And the other teams that do that and hold them under 19 points have been Georgia and Clemson, two pretty good football teams and great defenses.
Offensively, we started really fast. As a whole, didn’t finish as well as we wanted in the second half. That’s the same thing defensively. If you look at our second half woes, somebody asked that Saturday after the game, you look at like why? Is it a lack of focus? What is it? Five of our seven penalties were in the second half. Why are we not as detailed on defense? I don’t know if it was a face mask or not, looked like a helmet rub. But we got too close to the head and they call it, which, again, I don’t think was a great call. I can see why they did. But that’s a third down and 17. So of those five penalties, I believe all five of them were on what we call the money down, third down, whether it’s offensive or defense. Offensively we have a third and one that we’re going to get it. We have a holding the backfield, we have a fourth and three, we jump off sides, we’re going for it, and I think we’ve got a play that’s going to spring on them. But we shoot ourselves in the foot with a holding, illegal procedure, whatever it may be, we’ve got to be sharper on third down. Execute better on the third down and look at what we’re doing there.
And then obviously we got North Carolina, who we’ve struggled with in the past. And, again, as you guys know, I don’t look in the past, I look really the last three years, and really what’s happened, and how they’ve been able to squeak it out at the end. It’s always been a close game. We know it’s going to be a ballgame this weekend. We’ve got to come to play against a great football team. I think Larry Fedora does a great job, how he does it on both sides of the football. They’ve got a great staff and really good football players.
Q. North Carolina game the last few years, they’ve somehow found a way to edge you guys out, is that something you mentioned to the guys this week at all?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: I think they know it. If I had to tell you why, I’d be real controversial and probably be on ESPN tonight, I won’t get into the reasons why. We’ll stay off of ESPN. But we have to find a way to win, period. And the past doesn’t really matter. This football team is different than the last and the last and the last. We have a great challenge going down to play in Chapel Hill. Our guys have to be ready.
Q. Is there a trend in the three games against North Carolina?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: They do a great job on offense and defense. The trend is they’re playing better football than we are, winning the game. And other trends that we won’t discuss.
Q. Talk about the challenge that Ratliff-Williams presents. What does he do well, what did you see last year?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: He’s a great receiver. Ratliff-Williams will make plays, he’ll go up and get it. He’s shown that, he’s shown that he’s a playmaker, he’s the guy we’re going to have to stop. So we’ll dig deep into that, what he’s doing and how he’s doing it and try to shut him down.
Q. Is Ratliff-Williams similar to Hamler for Penn State?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: No, he’s [Ratliff-Williams] more on the outside. Hamler is a slot receiver. He’s an X, they move him around a little bit. He’ll be to the field or to the boundary. But he’s more of a deep-play guy. Hamler is an explosive, inside slot receiver, and they can get him matched up on a safety, too. So we’ll practice that as well.
Q. Quintin Wirginis was a big reason why you were able to hold Georgia Tech the way you did on Saturday. He made a lot of plays again this past week. Is this what you thought you’d get out of him last year, or maybe even better after having that year away?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: Hard to tell. I think we were going to get it out of him last year, to be honest with you. I can’t tell if he’s better than last year. His mind is locked in. He’s engaged. I told you the very beginning of the year, the guy is impressive, making plays all over the field, the run and pass game. He’s a great football player. I told you one of the best Mikes I’ve been around, the only way to prove that is do it week after week, and he does a great job with the game plan, he knows what’s going on, he makes everybody else around him better.
Q. Last week you said you spent time preparing for Georgia Tech throughout the offseason. Is there anything that you’ve been preparing for similarly for North Carolina?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: Not really. Because it’s kind of one of those offenses that you see just about every week, besides the different personnel. Nathan Elliott is the guy who started against us last year, got on fire. I don’t know if a guy could play better than he played. He’s a coach’s kid. He’s just a guy that’s a football player. And I think he does great things. Great touch. Really accurate on the deep ball, on the intermediate passes. That’s not different.
A lot of things they do concept-wise, we do. So we kind of see that type of offensive every week. We’ve got to lock in to what they do. They do a lot of things with motion and shifting and just trying to get — angles on you. It’s more like a Penn State offense, a lot of RPO’s, and they do a good job in their zone game.
Q. Talk about your offensive line and its performance against Georgia Tech.
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: Pretty darn good. Pretty good against I think an odd front. Something we haven’t seen. But I don’t think there was one mental error up front. When you watch some of those runs, we put the highlight tape on, I could throw it up. Some of the blocking was really good. Qadree’s first touchdown run, couldn’t have been executed better than what it was. So obviously the quarterback got hit one time, you like to keep your quarterback clean. We gave up zero sacks on the quarterback, three TFL’s the whole day. Eliminated the negative run, as far as just negative plays in the backfield. So those are good things. O-line did a great job.
Q. Does them not having played last week mean anything to you?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: It obviously gave them a week of rest, and our thoughts and prayers are with everybody down in North Carolina, dealing with that hurricane, and how devastating that’s been to the people down there. I don’t think that’s easy on anybody. Those kids and families have to deal with that. And I don’t know who’s been affected by that personally. So those are all things I don’t know. But they had a week off. They’ll be fresher, I know nobody got hurt this weekend, I can tell you that, nobody is banged up, and they’ve had two weeks to prepare for us. I think it’s an advantage for them.
Q. Your tight ends’ lack of production, is that a product of the offense?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: You know, Tyler Sear had a chance if he didn’t almost get tackled on a big play. But he had a chance. So maybe it’s a product of the offense, maybe it’s a product of who they are there, making plays, getting open. Being in the progression of the quarterback. We’d like to get our tight ends targeted more. If they can get open and be in the progression.
Q. Wirginis has been one of your better players on the defensive side of the ball. Ollison has been that for the offensive side. Do you remember what your impressions of Wirginis and Ollison were when you first got here a few years ago?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: Quintin we knew was a really good backup that we weren’t afraid to put in the game. That was a guy that helped us a lot on third down. He’s grown up a lot on and off the field. And Qadree was a guy that my first year takes over for James and rushes for over a thousand yards, but could have been over 2000. We were talking about it at dinner last night, he said I don’t know if I’ve gotten faster. I know you aren’t tripping and falling down as much. He’s picked his feet up and become a good running back for us. He’s not falling down. Both of those guys have come a long way, and that’s what they’re supposed to do.
I’m going to go back to your tight end question, the first play of the game, the tight end is open, but if you watch that first play, wish we could get it to him, we didn’t see it, didn’t get there fast enough. There’s opportunities for those tight ends, too.
Q. Talking about Qadree, I asked him if he’s lighter than he was last year. He said not really with his body fat. But there’s explosiveness there. Did you say to him your body needs to change a little bit?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: I think everybody wants to change their body. I want to change my body. It can’t happen. I don’t get to spend any time with the strength staff down there.
But our kids, they want to reduce their body fat. They want to have more horsepower, as Coach Andrews would say. And that’s what he’s got. You watch that first play, he hit it fast because nobody was in his way. It was sealed off. It was a work of art. I told our kids last night, if the defense wants to watch how it was blocked, it was perfect. It couldn’t be any more perfect than what the blocking was on the front seven there.
Q. Is Qadree attacking defenders more? Trying to run through them and not afraid of contact?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: I don’t know. Watch the tape there. We try to give him — I hope we don’t have anybody on the field that’s afraid of contact. Nobody is afraid of contact. And again, reading it faster, maturity, knowing what he’s doing better, not confused. And it comes down to vision, and that takes repetition. He’s getting a lot of reps, and he’s been good. And so is Darrin Hall. I was impressed with how he ran and how hard he ran.
Q. You mentioned Nathan Elliott earlier. When you’re preparing for a quarterback is it easier when you have the film on the guys as opposed to last year when he was an unknown?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: Yes, you can see what he likes to do, how he likes to do it. It will help us having some games on him.
Q. Last week I think you guys had 23 guys playing on defense. Was that a product of playing the triple option or do you expect those kind of substitutions moving forward?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: We expect that. We’ve talked for — since spring ball about the depth we’ve got on defense. Coach Partridge is moving eight guys down there, that takes a load right there. And linebackers Zeise and Saleem we feel really comfortable with. Elias Reynolds came in and made bone hits. He was physical, which is what we saw in practice last week. When you practice well and you do a good job we’re going to get you in there. If you don’t practice so well, you might not get to 23 or 28 guys. Maybe it’s 11 guys. But it depends on how you practice and what you can do in this game plan. Elijah showed last week he could do it. We felt like we could keep Zeise and Saleem both healthy and both fresh. We thought that really helped us. Oluwaseun played a lot of reps. I think he played every down to the field. So Cam Bright, I’m kind of a little disappointed he didn’t get in last week, because he really had a good feel for this football team, for the Georgia Tech game. He’s gotten better every week as well. I’m kind of, I guess, a little sad he didn’t get in because I think he could’ve impacted the game as well.
Q. Talk about the second half struggles on offense? Is Shawn Watson calling the game any different?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: No, I think it’s a matter of the defense. Again, it’s matter of shooting ourselves in the foot. We’ve got a chance to make a big play and whatever you want to call it in the end zone. Should be another seven points there. And like I said it’s third down or fourth down, where we’re not making plays, doing the wrong thing, dropping the ball. Whatever it may be. We’re not executing.
I asked our guys, I said, hey, are you tired? Mentally tired? What is it? But better figure it out, and get the second half woes of execution and focus out of our system or it’s going to be hard every week. You can’t do that and make plays. We’ve got to keep drives going. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties on those money downs and the second half, period. You’ve got two in the first half and five in the second and they’re all on third down and fourth down.
Q. How did they answer that question?
HEAD COACH PAT NARDUZZI: I didn’t ask them. If I asked everybody, they’ll have 50 different answers, I don’t need 50 different answers. Something is wrong. Focus.
Q. Weaver has three fumble recoveries. He says he’s around the ball more, more alert. He’s a guy who likes be part of the action all the time?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: I hope we have eleven, Jerry. It’s not going to be ‘Oh, Weaver is going to run to the ball, let’s put him in this week.’ Our guys did a great job of flying to the football last week in practice. We emphasized we’re going to get 11 guys, we’re going to gang tackle, and that’s the emphasis every week. Sometimes these tempo teams—the Penn States, the North Carolinas, the Central Floridas—in the coming weeks, they tempo you. And they get you out of being able to run to the football.
So we’ve got to emphasize running to the football, finishing that play and getting back home versus tempo offenses, and that’s what we’ll face this weekend. Our guys run the ball. We better run the ball. Good things happen when you sprint to the ball. That’s something since 1962 in coaching.
Q. Is this the best defense you’ve had in four years?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: I’ll let you know at the end of the year. Have to make plays every week. That was one of the best defenses against Georgia Tech, let’s put it that way. Nobody cares what you did last week, only care what you do for them lately. This week will be the measuring stick, next week will be the measuring stick. You have to come to play every week.
Q. Is that message especially important this week since there is no carryover from your preparation for Georgia Tech?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: Correct, none, zero. So they were having fun last week. Some [other] people shut it down, ‘Oh, the option, I don’t want to play this stuff. I’m going to get chopped.’ Our guys have a great attitude and came out to play. They’ll have a great attitude this weekend, that’s what they do.
Q. Is Kenny Pickett wearing the knee brace to class today?
HEAD COACH NARDUZZI: He laughed, he sits right there, and he’s like I almost came to meetings today with my knee brace on. He’ll be wearing it. Not on need either. He’ll be wearing it because the head coach is making him.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
NOTES: PITT (2-1, 1-0 ACC) vs. NORTH CAROLINA (0-2, 0-0 ACC)
September 22, 2018 • 12:20 p.m., ET
Kenan Stadium (50,500/Natural Grass) • Chapel Hill, N.C.
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Pitt-UCF Kickoff Time Announced
PITTSBURGH—Pitt’s September 29 game at the University of Central Florida will kick off at 3:30 p.m., and be televised by either ESPN2 or ESPNU, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced.