Pitt is Hoping for ‘Lucky 7’ For Coach Narduzzi
Fresh off a Pandemic-affected 2020 season in which they finished 6-5 (5-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) which included declining any Bowl invites, the Pitt Panthers football team hopes that 2021 will be a ‘Lucky’ one in Head Coach Pat Narduzzi’s 7th season.
“It’s an accomplishment. I think it’s hard to be a head coach that many years.” Said Narduzzi at his first news conference of the season “It’s hard. It’s not easy to continue to do the same things, but whatever.
Although he’s already won an ACC Coastal Division title (2018), Narduzzi is hoping more postseason success for his Panthers as their season begins Saturday vs. the Massachusetts Minutemen at Heinz Field.
“Couldn’t be more excited. Feels like normal. Got the media in here.” Said Narduzzi. “We’re not Zooming. A lot of excitement. Kids are popping around this morning, a lot of excitement out of our kids to get this season going. It’s been a long time since we’ve had some normalcy and so we are excited to play against somebody else instead of ourselves.”
The Panthers will play a Massachusetts team for the first time in school history. The Minutemen plays as an independent at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level.
“As far as UMass, good football team.” Said Narduzzi “I know you guys will look, go, oh, they only played four games last year, 0-4. They have 12 new transfers on the football team from all over the place, two from North Carolina. So it’s a totally different football team. It’s not like you’re going to see the same team we saw last year.”
Narduzzi and the Panthers hope to continue their success with Season Openers as they are 85-44- 2 (.657) all-time in openers. Since the 2000 season, Pitt is 15-6 (.714) in its initial game, including 5-1 (.833) under Narduzzi.
The Panthers hope they can have an consistent offense, especially since Senior QB Kenny Pickett is returning for a 6th season (4th as starting QB) Pickett has played in 39 career games, making 36 starts.
“He looks so much more comfortable, patient.” Narduzzi said of his Quarterback. “Again, it’s not like his arm is so much better or he runs better. It’s just his comfort in the pocket, I would say. The way he’s looking at coverages and how relaxed he looks. I think in your freshman year, stuff is moving really fast and you go to your sophomore year and it’s still moving pretty quick.”
The Running Back position is pretty crowded and competitive as Sophomore Israel Abanikanda and Senior Vincent Davis are expected to lead the way.
When asked about his running backs and if they will be on a rotation, Narduzzi replied “I would say probably play it by series a little bit…Maybe it’s two series. You like to get in the flow of the
game but when you have got so many good tailbacks, maybe we’ll throw two or three in there at the same time, who knows.
The concern with the offensive line is at center where Senior Owen will replace All-Senior Jimmy Morrissey (graduated). He will be joined by Senior Tackles Carter Warren & Gaby Houy, (Maryland transfer) Senior G Marcus Minor, and Junior G Jake Kradel.
At receiver, Sophomore Jordan Addison and redshirt Senior Tasyir Mack are expected to lead the way, and Senior Lucas Krull will start at TE.
On defense, The Pitt pass rush perennially ranks among the nation’s best. The Panthers compiled 97 sacks over the 2019-20 seasons, the highest total in the country over those two years. It is Pitt’s highest two-year total since 1986-87. But the Panthers had 5 of these players taken in the NFL Draft, so the ‘Next Man Up’ philosophy definitely applies here.
“So there’s a lot of positions you feel good.” Said Narduzzi “D-tackle, we have got six guys that can really play. I mean, I don’t care which one goes out there. (DE Deandre) Jules was looking good, he looked good in two-deep and he’s never been in the two-deep ever. He’s done some good things and I’m excited about that guy a lot.
About his linebackers, Narduzzi said “We feel really good with all of them. You know, it’s going to be –Wendell (Davis) is a good football player and so is SirVocea (Dennis). It’s a good problem, any time you see more — we are going to play them all.”
In the Secondary, Safety Brandon Hill, Cornerbacks Marquis Williams and Damarri Mathis hope to replace the departed Damar Hamlin, Jason Pinnock and Paris Ford, who have all left for the NFL.
And at placekicker, freshman Sam Sauls and Sophomore Sam Scarton are competing to replace the departed Alex Kessmann, who set records during his time at Pitt.
“Right now, I don’t know. That’s one of them bad ‘ORs’ I guess.” Narduzzi said of his kickers “I’d say it’s a bad ‘OR’ right now. It’s always like, some of those ‘ORs’ it’s by design. But right there I think we (the kickers) are both solid.”
In a season that’s supposed to have an easier schedule than they have had in years (except for maybe, Clemson on October 23rd), the Panthers know that their job is to be prepared for the ‘this season’s opponent, not based on how they’ve played last season.
“We had a great preseason camp. Really happy with where we are as a program and as a football team right now offensively, defensively and special teams.” Said Narduzzi” There will be a lot of things we’ll find out on Saturday at 4:00 PM that maybe we didn’t during camp.
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