For Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi, the main priority week in and week out is emerging 1-0 against each week’s opponent. But after pausing to appreciate his team’s 21-10 victory over Syracuse on Saturday at a Monday press conference, Narduzzi lamented the lopsided score that could have been.
“That game could have very well been 30-zip or 42-zip,” the sixth-year head coach said. “You just leave some plays out there, which, like I said, it’s great to win a football game and still have a lot of things to clean up. That’s why they call us coach. It’s why we like to coach the game.”
With the Panthers having a noon kickoff last weekend, Narduzzi also said he had a chance to catch Pitt’s next opponent, Louisville, in its late game against Miami. While he said the national broadcast wasn’t as easy to break down as the “all-22” view he would get the next day as game film, there were still things to take away from the Cardinals’ 47-34 loss.
“You notice their speed,” Narduzzi said. “When I’m watching them, they’re fast, their o-line is aggressive. They’re very aggressive. We’re going to have to work on cut blocks on the backside, some of their wide zone. They love the wide zone play.”
Addressing the Louisville offense, made up of playmakers such as QB Malik Cunningham, WR Tutu Atwell and RB Javian Hawkins, Narduzzi spoke of the unit’s — and those individuals’ — overall explosiveness while stressing the need for his defense to wrap up their weapons.
Speaking of Atwell, a preseason All-ACC selection after leading the conference in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2019, Narduzzi highlighted the high-level matchups that the small yet speedy wideout would present against his veteran DBs Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin.
“Tutu is a great player, explosive … maybe one of the fastest receivers we’ve ever faced,” Narduzzi said. “He’s excellent … We’re going to have to have great eye control out of our DBs to stop Tutu.”
As for his own team’s offensive weapons, Narduzzi addressed the constant question over the Panther’s own stable of running backs, after sophomore back Vincent Davis was given the week-two start.
“Vince did a nice job,” Narduzzi said. “Nobody is taking [that job] over and [saying], I’m the guy. I think it’s kind of a work in progress still.”
The smaller yet shifty Davis being the main back for the Pitt’s offense opens opportunities for contrast with Pitt’s other backs, namely redshirt freshman Daniel Carter (listed at 5 feet, 10 inches and 220 pounds), as a change of pace.
“Carter is that physical one,” Narduzzi said “If you stood them right next to each other, one would be as thick as [the] podium, the other one would be thick as this mic right here.”
In a season where depth may be even more important than normal, with the implications of COVID-19 protocols and a shortened training camp, Narduzzi highlighted the performances and expectations of a few of the younger Panthers, beginning with redshirt freshman defensive tackle Calijah Kancey.
“Calijah had a heck of a game. Explosive. We want to see him do that every day in practice as well,” Narduzzi said. “He has gotten better every week … He’s learning how to practice. He’s learning from the older guys. It’s just a matter of fitting into that culture as far as the way we practice every single day.”
Narduzzi also pointed to first-years Israel “Izzy” Abanikanda, Bangally Kamara and Dayon Hayes as younger players who the coaching staff are looking at to step up amid the pressure of facing a ranked opponent — the first time Pitt will do so as a ranked team at Heinz Field since losing to No. 5 Cincinnati in dramatic fashion back in 2009.
“Hayes … got reps last week,” Narduzzi said. “With Rashad Weaver and Patrick Jones out there, it’s hard to put some young guys out there.”
Narduzzi also spoke highly of how his team will look, literally, as the Panthers will debut their new “Steel City” alternate uniforms Saturday.
“I love the uniforms. I’ve kind of known about the uniforms for a couple weeks … It’s Pittsburgh through and through,” Narduzzi said. “It’s the Steel City. We got to go out and play with some pride with those things on.”
As to whether there was any truth to the cliche of “look good, play good,” Narduzzi was optimistic.
“We want our kids to look good,” Narduzzi said. “They look good in our normal uniforms. The kids love a different look to go out there. I think they’ll be excited.”