PITT vs. YOUNGSTOWN STATE
Tuesday, November 6, 2018, • 7:00 PM
ACC Network Extra • Pitt IMG Sports Radio Network
Pittsburgh, Pa. • Petersen Events Center (12,508)
THE OPENING TIP
• Pitt begins a #ZooEra of men’s basketball under new head coach Jeff Capel by opening the 2018-19 season at home against Youngstown State.
• The Panthers are 77-34 all-time in season openers. Pitt had won 20 consecutive season-opening contests prior to falling at Navy, 71-62, in the Veterans Classic a year ago.
• Capel is 7-2 in his head-coaching career in season openers winning each of the past five openers.
• The Panthers dropped their final 19 games last season. Pitt’s last win of the 2017-18 season came against Towson on Dec. 22 by a score of 63-59.
• Pitt and Youngstown State meet for the first time since the 2013-14 season, when the Panthers defeated the Penguins, 91-73. Pitt has won all three meetings with YSU at the Petersen Events Center.
• Pitt owns a 142-7 (.953) all-time record at the Petersen Events Center in non-conference games. The Panthers’ 240 home wins since the start of the 2002-03 season ranked fifth most in the NCAA in that span.
Pitt-Wake Forest Kickoff Time Announced
PITTSBURGH—Pitt’s November 17 game at Wake Forest will kick off at noon, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced. The contest will be televised by select regional sports networks, airing locally on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh.
The Panthers’ remaining 2018 schedule with announced television coverage and kickoff times:
Nov. 10: Virginia Tech* (ESPNU), 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 17: at Wake Forest* (RSN/AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh), Noon
Nov. 24: at Miami*, TBA
PITT (5-4, 4-1 ACC) vs. VIRGINIA TECH (4-4, 3-2 ACC)
November 10, 2018, • 3:30 p.m., ET
Heinz Field (68,400/Natural Grass) • Pittsburgh, Pa.
ESPNU • Pitt IMG Sports Radio Network
PittsburghPanthers.com • @Pitt_FB
LINK (PDF): Pitt Game Notes (vs. Virginia Tech)
• Following a pair of pulsating victories, the Panthers enter their final home game of the season looking to stay atop the Coastal Division and earn bowl eligibility with a win over Virginia Tech.
• Pitt currently leads the Coastal with a 4-1 mark in ACC play. The Panthers are 5-4 overall and need one more victory to be eligible for a bowl invitation.
• The game is important for sentimental reasons as well. Before Saturday’s kickoff, Pitt will honor 19 senior players who are making their final home appearance at Heinz Field.
• A win over Virginia Tech would give Pitt its first three-game winning streak since November 2016.
• Virginia Tech, despite losing its last two games, entertains Coastal title hopes as well. The Hokies currently occupy third place in the division with a 3-2 mark, right behind second-place Virginia (4-2) and the Panthers.
• The Panthers’ recent surge has been keyed by a powerful rushing attack. Pitt is averaging 230.8 yards per game to rank 20th nationally and third in the ACC. Virginia Tech enters Saturday’s matchup surrendering 177.8 rushing yards per contest.
• Darrin Hall was the workhorse in Pitt’s 23-13 win at Virginia. Hall, the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week, churned out 229 yards and three TDs against a Cavs defense that was yielding only 113 rush yards per game.
• With 819 rushing yards this year, Qadree Ollison ranks third among ACC ball carriers. Ollison is striving to become only the sixth player in Pitt history to achieve multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
• Only a sophomore, Alex Kessman has the most 50-yard field goals in Pitt history with six. Four of those kicks occurred this season, including a game-clinching 53-yarder last week at Virginia.
Pitt’s Hall and Herndon Earn ACC Player of the Week Honors
PITTSBURGH—Two players who powered Pitt’s potent rushing attack at Virginia last Friday night, senior tailback Darrin Hall and senior offensive guard Mike Herndon, received ACC Player of the Week honors at their respective positions today.
Hall was named the ACC Running Back of the Week, while Herndon was honored as the ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week. The pair helped Pitt pile up 254 rushing yards against a Cavs defense that was yielding only 113 per contest. The Panthers beat No. 23 Virginia, 23-13, to move into sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division.
Hall (Youngstown, Ohio/Austintown Fitch) rambled for 229 yards and three touchdowns on just 19 carries (12.1 avg.) and was not dropped for a loss the entire game. His touchdown runs covered 41, 2 and 75 yards, the last giving the Panthers a 20-13 advantage in the final quarter.
This is the second time in two days Hall was recognized for his performance at Virginia. He previously was named the Walter Camp Football Foundation National Offensive Player of the Week. Hall has rushed for 658 yards and seven touchdowns on 89 carries (7.4 avg.) for the season.
In a return to his home state of Virginia, Herndon (Greenville, Va./Riverheads) had one of the finest games of his career. He graded out at 95% while surrendering no sacks or pressures and committing no mental errors. Herndon was responsible for several big blocks in the run game, including one that blew open a hole for Hall’s two-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that gave Pitt the lead for good at 14-10.
Herndon, a starter in every game at right guard this season, has been a key figure for a Pitt running game that ranks 20th nationally with an average of 230.8 yards per contest.
The Panthers are producing at their highest rate on the ground since the 2014 season when they averaged 249.5 rushing yards. That year, sophomore running back James Conner led Pitt with 1,765 yards and was named a first-team All-American and the ACC Player of the Year.
Pat Narduzzi Press Conference
Virginia Tech Week
PAT NARDUZZI: First of all, I’d like to thank you guys for kind of accommodating us with a little earlier time for several different reasons.
Good to kind of put that chapter of the Virginia game away last night with our kids. Just kind of shutting it down. A lot of great things. First thing, started off, when you look at the game tape, was the toughness and resilience our kids played with really all three phases of the game. Starts with the opening kickoff where we cause a fumble. Don’t quite get the fumble which is always disappointing when a ball is on the ground, we don’t get it. Three guys touched it. Started with that first big hit.
Offensively and defensively after that we established some toughness in the game. Again, it starts with running the football, stopping the run. That’s usually our intentions. Mr. Hillgrove asks me every week, What do we have to do? I tell him every week, I’m sure he hates to hear that, we were able to get that done.
Very important this week against a Justin Fuente team. Hungry, probably angry, something to prove. I I’ll have an angry and hungry Pitt football team. Still goes through my mind fourth-and-one. Four downs at the one last year where we could have taken that game back to Pittsburgh. We’re going to play angry, as well.
We got a chance to go 1-0 in the ACC again this week. That’s our goal, where our focus is, really just on this game, nothing else, which has been the story all year really, just focusing on the next one.
We got a great opportunity hopefully in front of a big crowd here at Heinz Field. Should be a game of the ages.
Q. November 5th, leading the Coastal Division. You said, I think my kids are aware of where they are. At this point do you talk about it?
PAT NARDUZZI: I didn’t address it last night. I’m not going to address it. There’s still a bunch of hungry teams sitting below us. Doesn’t really matter. I know they read on Twitter all that stuff. I guess I don’t have to address it.
I’m going to address what we need to take care of, the business at hand. All that doesn’t matter if we don’t do what we needed to.
Again, the focus has got to be on the preparation we need to do to win this football game, period. Nothing else matters. Those standings mean absolutely nothing. They really don’t. What are we going to do, stare at those, Google those all day, look at them on Twitter. If that’s our focus, you got a problem.
Q. Did you pay attention to the Saturday games this weekend?
PAT NARDUZZI: Really doesn’t matter. I didn’t. I actually watched the second half of the Virginia Tech game, my daughter pulled it up. “Can you get this darn game?” She pulled it up on Apple TV. I got to watch the second half. Didn’t watch any of the Miami-Duke.
I was just watching ball, flicking channels as much as I could. Never got that game. Really didn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. We just got to take care of our business. I just wanted to watch some good football on Saturday.
Q. What did you watch instead? What did you want to watch?
PAT NARDUZZI: At the end? I just wanted to see it. What was I watching before that?
Q. If it were up to you, what would you have been watching?
PAT NARDUZZI: I don’t even remember. So long ago, I don’t know what the heck I was watching. I don’t remember. I know in the evening we watched that Alabama-LSU game. That was the last game, so I remember the last one I watched.
Q. A lot of times when a team faces adversity, they can’t bounce back from it. Why do you think this team was able to bounce back from the early season troubles?
PAT NARDUZZI: It’s been a nice job by our assistant coaches and coaches overall. It’s really the leadership in this room, in our seniors that sit up in front, just keeping everybody on track.
Ultimately you play one game at a time. To me it comes down to the overall leadership of the program. What are we doing? We just got to keep moving on and focusing on what we can do to change things.
Obviously, we didn’t get to start the way we wanted to. I don’t think anybody has played five top-25 football teams in the country, which we have. We faced five of them so far. Wasn’t an easy schedule. Everybody knew it wasn’t an easy schedule coming into the year.
After the game is over, no one says, “But it’s a hard schedule.” What other way would you want it? Our kids read on Twitter, as we know, they know what’s going on. They know who we play.
To me, that’s coaching. It’s always the hardest coaching. It’s easy to win and keep them going. But it’s always harder to keep them alive, keep the kids engaged, keep them believing. I think it’s a great job by our coaching staff.
Q. Do you change anything tactical-wise, approach-wise?
PAT NARDUZZI: No. Stick with what you do. I think any time you start to change what you do, I think the kids notice that. They say, “Okay, the other stuff didn’t work.” We do what we do, offensively, defensively, structurally. Our days don’t change. We try to keep things as similar, as familiar with the kids as we possibly can.
Q. You mentioned how that leadership is there. You’ve been talking about that since early July. Saturday is going to be the Senior Day for a lot of those guys. How much more special is this going to be for you with a quality group of guys?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I mean, we didn’t need to win it any more than we need to win the next one or last one. Obviously Senior Day is always an emotional day for our kids, families, parents, aunts, uncles, high school player that may be walking a player out there on game day.
It’s an emotional game. Sometimes the emotions can get to you and be a negative as well. We got to make sure that doesn’t happen. It is emotional. I think our kids will be cranked up for it.
It’s always tough saying good-bye, but again we have two more games, not home games afterwards, that are guaranteed that we can play with the team again. But it’s the last time for them to be in Heinz Field, which is a big day for those kids. It will be an emotional day for everybody in the program.
Q. Dewayne Hendrix had a big game at Virginia with two-and-a-half sacks. Is he showing signs of being the player you always thought he would be?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I mean, Dewayne has had a good year all year really. There’s things about Dewayne that have just gotten better and better. I notice on the sideline, our offense has the ball, I think, I don’t think it’s a timeout, but I know defense is on the bench, right behind me, maybe 10 yards. I’m hearing Dewayne go off on the sideline. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard that.
Dewayne is always listening, nicest kid in the world, listening what everybody has to say. He went off leading. We talk about seniors leading. Every game, I think he’s feeling confident enough, well enough in what’s going on, he’s now stepping up and saying stuff, which is awesome. That’s what he needs to do.
I think we mentioned it after the game, he just has studied the game. Maybe I mentioned it to Larry (Richert) on the radio. I guess he’s really attaching himself to the details of this game. It’s not about how big, fast, strong you are, but the knowledge is starting to kick in with them as far as tendencies. At practice, “Coach, wait a second now if they do this…” He’s putting it all together.
Sometimes it takes a little bit longer. But he’s a smart kid. He’s really starting to take advantage of the things he knows about on offense. He’s not worried about what he’s doing, he’s worried about what the other guys are doing. That’s helping him play bigger, better, faster.
Q. You have two guys at running back who are capable of going back and forth. For other teams that becomes a problem. One guy wants to be the dude. With Qadree and Darrin, that does not seem to be the case? They support each other.
PAT NARDUZZI: That’s a great point. You talk about selflessness. That running back room is a couple doors down here. I hope the young guys in that room are taking notice to those two guys, how they act. Again, I’m sure you guys got brothers in here, been around brothers. Those two guys get along better than brothers. Brothers fight a heck of a lot more than those two do. Those two get along so well. They understand the role. They understand they’ve got to come out and compete every day in practice.
They’re not worried about “me, me.” They’re worried about “we, we.” I think any time you’ve got really a football team that’s not worried about that, we talked at halftime about just sticking together, guys. Don’t go off on your own and worry about yourself, stick together as a team. Second half we’re down by three. Those two are the epitome of togetherness, selflessness.
Q. You talked about how much impact Kenny Pickett can have on the running game. How much do you feel he had an impact in the game?
PAT NARDUZZI: All the unknown. I’m glad you brought it up. All the unknown. All the things he’s doing back there with signals, the loudness, giving some of these, doing some of these, letting receivers know what’s going on as well as just barking out in a pretty loud environment, especially with the band, the music going till the end, all the way up until we’re about ready to snap the ball.
Kenny is a big part. You’re not just handing the ball off blindly every snap. You’re not doing it. From his quarterback sneaks to all the different run checks, all the things he has to look at pre-snap, he’s done an incredible job.
Obviously we want our passing game to be better. We talked about that last night. Something we need to work on. When you run the ball as effectively as we are right now, you hope you have some bigger shots, big plays in the pass game. We’re not getting those. We still need to be more explosive in the pass game, period, to get where we want to go.
Q. Halftime of the game Friday night, (ESPN’s) Joey Galloway said the officials are trying too hard to protect players. Have you seen that this year?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I mean, you watch games on Saturday, I think there was an awful one Saturday night, I forget what game it was. It wasn’t an ACC official so let’s stick there. (smiles) I don’t think I watched much ACC football.
Yeah, I think they are. They’re saying, “Oh, it’s not targeting,” but you still get penalized for it. What are we doing? That’s all I’ll say on that. Don’t bait me, Jerry. (laughter)
Q. What stands out about Virginia Tech’s defense this year, the front four?
PAT NARDUZZI: They lost a couple guys to graduation, number one. They’re still Bud Foster’s defense. You take the Georgia Tech game out of it, they’re still playing at a high level. They’re still explosive up front. They’re attacking. They get on you. They’re playing a lot of man, a lot of quarters like we do. They get in your face, they’re aggressive. They haven’t changed their style. Foster does a great job.
It will be a challenge. They’ll always play us up. They like to pack it in the box. We like to put them in the box. It’s going to be a smash-mouth football game.
Q. You talk about not getting caught looking at the standings. Is there something to embracing what comes with this week, everyone who is a part of this program came here, was a part of playing a big game like this? Any sort of embracing this moment and opportunity?
PAT NARDUZZI: Not really. I mean, you can embrace it all you want. It’s a football game. It’s just one game. It means nothing unless you win it. We can’t worry about a premature victory, something we did. We haven’t done anything yet. We really haven’t done anything. We got a long way to go. We can become a better football team this week with a Tuesday practice, a Wednesday practice and a Thursday practice. Premature victories are no good. We’re not looking for one, either.
Q. When you think about what a Narduzzi football game is supposed to look like, you run the ball, physical on defense, was that what happened on Friday at Virginia?
PAT NARDUZZI: Kind of what you want. Old school game. That’s who we are, what the city of Pittsburgh is. I’d say that’s it. I’d still like to throw the ball better. There’s a lot of things we’d like to do better. But I’d like the weather to be better. I hear there might be a sun out on Saturday in Heinz Field at 3:30. That’s a bonus, at least last time I looked.
I’m a weather guy, too. I do look at the weather. I check the weather, especially with these rainy games. The staff must laugh at me. Got to do some wet ball drills today, looks like we have rain Saturday.
Supposed to be a sunny day Saturday. Should be a heck of a game.
Q. Do you think you found your identity as a team at Virginia?
PAT NARDUZZI: I know what our identity is. It’s whether we can win doing it all the time. Your identity has to change weekly I think. You have to mold your offense and defense to what your team is doing. It’s not going to be a smash-mouth football game all the time. Sometimes you get to the point where you can’t do it, then what are you going to do? We can’t be handcuffed to say that’s all we are.
We’re going to find a way to win the football game. That was the goal Friday night: to find a way to do it. That’s our goal this week offensively and defensively. They’re working in rooms right now trying to figure out what we need to do to win this football game. It’s different than last week. Virginia game was different than the Duke game, so forth.
Q. How much is this one that having those fans at Heinz Field will give you a home-field advantage?
PAT NARDUZZI: You talk about standings. You can talk about standings all the time. Maybe the fans should look at the standings, “Let’s get to Heinz Field on Saturday.” That’s the key.
For those kids, the seniors, they look at that. That makes them feel good. The 12th man up there. All the fans in Heinz Field, they were loud last game. I don’t know how many were there, I don’t really care. I know our kids care. It will make a huge difference if they get the support they should, based on what they’ve done so far.
Our kids play with a lot of heart. We know it’s going to be a battle on Saturday afternoon. Should be a beautiful day.
Q. What is the key to your better defensive play?
PAT NARDUZZI: Focus maybe. I mean, just focus. We talk a lot about consistency. I said it after the game. We need to stack good games defensively on top of another one. Same thing offensively. You went from the Duke game to the Virginia game. Can we put them on top of each other and play great defense.
I still don’t think we played a complete game yet. Still not what we want on all phases. We may not ever get it. But that’s what we’re striving for, is perfection in all three phases, the consistency is what we need.
I think it comes down to focus and playing disciplined football, doing your job, not worrying about doing somebody else’s. I know it sounds cliché. Look at the tape, what are you doing, stay on your guy, read your keys. When you do the details right, you have a chance to be successful.
I think our kids were locked in and focused on both sides of the ball Friday night. They have to be really locked in and focused for a good football team in here.
Q. What do you see from Ryan Willis? Is their offense any different?
PAT NARDUZZI: It’s a little bit different. I just see a composed quarterback that is throwing the ball probably better, which is really not what we want to see. We’ve really been good at stopping the run. We have to be better at stopping the pass.
They do a great job with their screen game. He knows where to go with the football. I’m not saying he knows where to go better than Jackson. He’s just done a nice job. He’s still a young player. Was he a redshirt junior? He hasn’t played a lot, maybe 11 games or so. But he runs the offense. Goes through him. He’s done a nice job.
Q. You touched on last year’s game. Is it a point of emphasis for the kids themselves or a point of emphasis you talking about it?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think it’s a little bit of both. I didn’t mention it to our kids yet. I just mentioned it to you because it still bothers me. I know it bothers the offensive line. Whether they’ll talk about it or not, it’s fact, it’s reality, it’s what it was.
I think Friday night (at Virginia), when it’s fourth-and-one at our 11-yard line, kind of gives you the indication of how we feel, how much trust and faith we have in our offensive line to get it done when it’s a fourth-and-one. I think that’s key.