Narduzzi says Pitt still has a lot to play for | Pennsylvania

PITTSBURGH — Pitt Football had a rough October. It began with a home loss to Georgia Tech five days after the Yellow Jackets head coach was fired and ended in back-to-back losses to Louisville and North Carolina.

Since the loss at Chapel Hill lowered their record to 4-4, the Panthers have rebounded and notched up three straight wins.

Though Pitt’s stated goal of winning the ACC Coastal Division and fighting for another conference title fell short, coach Pat Narduzzi says his team still has a lot to play for.

“We’re playing for a bowl game. You play for your pride. I don’t think anybody wants to go out there and fool around,” Narduzzi said on Monday.

He believes his team’s reaction to an overwhelming October has shown a lot.

“It says a lot about our character,” Narduzzi said. “Every team that I’m responsible for will carry on and it starts with the coaches working as usual and being ready to roll on match day.”

“(The players) did a great job. Have you ever seen them stop? Have you ever seen them say ‘oh no’?” added Narduzzi. “No, our boys just keep fighting no matter what.”

That was the case again on Saturday when Pitt faced a duke. Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis threw interceptions on the Panthers’ first two drives in the second half and the defense didn’t allow Duke to score after both turnovers.

“The defense has been put into four or five sudden substitutions the other day and I think two out of four or two out of five have been successful. They got zero points for the two interceptions we threw,” said Narduzzi.

The other sudden changes happened when Pitt again saw problems with his punter, a problem that has been prevalent throughout the season regardless of which of Pitt’s punters is in play. The Blue Devils blocked a punt by Caleb Junko in the first quarter that resulted in a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, with the Panthers holding on to an 8-point lead, Junko fiddled with the snap on a punt attempt and put Duke up on the Pitt 22. The Blue Devils scored a touchdown, but the two-point conversion fell through when linebacker SirVocea Dennis tackled wide receiver Jordan Moore in the game.

“We blocked a punt, which again is disappointing,” said Narduzzi. “We talked to our punt team and all that, but again seven points down. You will lose seven points if you have another punt problem.”

With the punt team struggling in the first 11 games of the season, Narduzzi is poised to adopt a new tactic as his team prepares for the final game of the regular season this weekend in Miami.

“I told the offensive that we will often try it in fourth place, so we should be prepared for that,” said Narduzzi.

When asked if he would consider trying the fourth and long lap, Narduzzi replied: “Might as well be, right? Let’s go to Fourth Down. We’ve got it right there, right there at least we have a chance of getting a first down.

While the Panthers have fallen short of their own expectations, Miami has surpassed almost everyone’s expectations. The Hurricanes were favorites to win the preseason ACC Coastal. Miami alum Mario Cristobal returned home to coach the Hurricanes after leading Oregon to a 35-13 record in four seasons with the Ducks.

Miami has fallen far behind as quarterback Tyler Van Dyke — who threw 25 touchdowns for six interceptions last year — struggled with injuries all season. When Van Dyke was healthy enough to play, he didn’t look as good as he did last season. He has thrown 10 touchdowns to four interceptions in seven games this season.

The Hurricanes currently sit fifth in the ACC Coastal with a 3-4 conference record and a 5-6 overall record. To qualify for the Bowl, Miami must defeat Pitt on Saturday.

Narduzzi says the Hurricanes are still playing the way that matters despite a 10-40 loss to Clemson last weekend.

“They play – as we know, you saw them against a good Clemson football team last week. They play hard,” said Narduzzi.

“They play hard and are athletic. They’ll be home, it’ll be seniors’ day for them, they’ll be playing excitedly, I guarantee you that.

It’s currently unknown if Pitt will have three of his best players available for the regular-season finals. Neither running back Israel Abanikanda nor defensive tackle Calijah Kancey finished the game against Duke, and defensive end Habakuk Baldonado missed the game entirely. Narduzzi hasn’t ruled out any of them for the season but says they are still being evaluated.

“We’re still playing by ear,” Narduzzi said of the injuries.

Pitt will wrap up the regular season against Miami at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday with kick-off scheduled for 8 p.m