Heinz Field has featured a consistent silence through Pitt’s first four matchups, absent of fans. That silence was more deafening than ever after the Panthers’ last-minute loss to the underdog NC State Wolfpack on Saturday, ending Pitt’s three-game win streak to start the season.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi said that silence carried into the locker room after the game, and even remained in the team’s meetings the next day as players digested the impact of the upset.
“In my 30 years of coaching, or whatever it’s been, I don’t know if I’ve seen a team as maturely take that,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t know if I’ve been in a team meeting where they were as quiet as I’ve seen, which tells me it hurts like a coach, and I think that’s what you want as a coach.”
Narduzzi expressed pride in his team’s emotional response to the loss, saying he’d feel slighted if the team didn’t take the result seriously. He thinks it will give them extra motivation the rest of the year.
”I think they understand how much sacrifice they’ve made this year with the pandemic oriented, and it’s like, ‘man, we’re doing all this, we can’t go out and play like that’,” Narduzzi said. “For whatever it is, sometimes you have to learn by the fire there, and I think that’s really what happened.”
Pitt will certainly need to get its mind right for the tough stretch ahead. After starting the season with four straight home games, five of its final seven matchups will occur away from Pittsburgh. They’ll have to play three teams currently ranked in the AP top 10 during that stretch.
Narduzzi said the team is ready to hit the road, noting they won’t have to play in front of an away crowd this week at Boston College — although BC hasn’t announced a policy for the game yet.
“I think our kids enjoy going on the road, going into a different atmosphere,” Narduzzi said. “Not like we’re going to have to deal with any crowd noise. But the field is about the same size. Might have a little bit more extra sideline room, more space or not, but it’s playing the game of football and there’s 22 guys out there. It doesn’t really matter.”
The Panthers must address some of their primary concerns if they want to emerge from this stretch unscathed — the most noticeable likely being the running game’s struggles. Pitt ranks 51 out of 74 FBS teams with 130.5 rushing yards per game this year, with nearly half of their rushing production Saturday coming from senior quarterback Kenny Pickett. Narduzzi said he’s not worried about Pickett’s increased role in short-yardage situations, after Pickett scored two touchdowns on the ground in goal line situations against the Wolfpack.
“Kenny wants the ball all the time,” Narduzzi said. “You want the ball in No. 8’s hands. Like I said, he played a heck of a ball game, and we have no regrets. Kenny is tough.”
Pitt came away satisfied with one result from Saturday’s game — the Panthers had no players absent from COVID-19 protocols for the second week in a row. Narduzzi credited Pitt’s discipline in that area to MAKO Medical, which he said now handles all of the team’s COVID testing duties.
“MAKO has done an incredible job of just — I was stressed out early in the year, and they have eliminated a lot of stresses,” Narduzzi said. “MAKO has been incredible as far as how they operate, the diligence that they get our results back and the quality of that company.”