At the halfway marker, Pitt needs to take a breather
Never in the history of off weeks (they are not byes, by the way) has a team needed rest more than Pitt does at the moment.
With three successful fourth-quarter comebacks in a row and injuries to key personnel at running back, linebacker and cornerback, Pitt (4-2, 1-1) needs to take a deep breath and relax.
After leading by 23 points late in the third quarter Saturday night at Duke before rallying for a 33-30 win, Pitt doesn’t play again until Oct. 18 at Syracuse. Pat Narduzzi said running backs A.J. Davis and Vincent Davis, who have missed the past two games, will return. He did not mention the projected status of injured linebackers Chase Pine and Elias Reynolds or cornerback Jason Pinnock.
But he said, “We’ll be as healthy as we’ve been all year.”
Meanwhile, here are five points to ponder over the next 12 days:
1. Paris Ford’s penance
Ford was ejected for targeting late in the fourth quarter, which means he can’t play until the second half of the next game per NCAA rules.
On a third-down play at the Duke 14, Ford appeared to lead with his shoulder, not the crown of his helmet, when he stopped wide receiver Scott Bracey a yard short of the first down. Ford passionately protested the ejection before he was escorted from the field. Duke scored a few minutes later to take its only lead.
After the game, Narduzzi did not want to talk about it. Asked if he received an explanation from the officials, he offered a terse “No.”
Which brings us to the second point.
2. Too many mistakes
It’s not often a team commits 15 penalties for a loss of 145 yards, throws two interceptions, loses two fumbles, blows a 23-point lead and still wins on the road.
The penalties bothered Narduzzi as much as the turnovers, and he said he expects better discipline from his team.
Still, Pitt’s video crew will splice together some select calls by the officials and send a tape to the ACC, which is what normally happens after a game.
“We’ll turn our plays in and go through the ACC protocol,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to help.”
That doesn’t mean he excuses his players.
“Sometimes, there are going to be aggressive penalties, but way too many,” he said.
In the past three games, Pitt has been flagged 36 times for a loss of 355 yards. That was after committing only two penalties at Penn State.
“Coach Narduzzi preaches (discipline) all the time,” cornerback Dane Jackson said.
It’s timeto start listening to the sermon.
3. A little help, please
Pitt continues to move the football effectively in tense moments, but it still puts the defense in bad spots.
The Panthers have allowed 16 touchdowns, including one on a punt return. Nine of the other 15 and five of the past six came at the end of drives that started in Pitt territory.
There is a lot of talk the defense might be Narduzzi’s best at Pitt. That talk isn’t outrageous. Pitt has recorded 27 sacks after dropping the quarterback only 32 times in 14 games last season.
The defense finally started creating turnovers, too, with two interceptions by Ford (one returned for a touchdown), another by Jackson and three fumble recoveries.
Ford is the first Pitt player to get two picks in a game since safety Ray Vinopal against Notre Dame in 2013. The total of six turnovers is the most since the 2011 Syracuse game.
Pitt only had two turnovers in the previous seven games, dating to last season.
4. Aerial show
Pitt continues to fill the air with footballs. Pickett attempted 48 passes against Duke, the most since totaling 51 at Penn State.
It’s almost like Pitt has no choice. The ground game averaged only 2 yards per carry.
If Narduzzi is right and his injured running backs are healthy enough to play at Syracuse, that will be a crucial step toward Pitt staying in the ACC Coastal race.
5. New-look offensive line
Did you notice a couple of new faces — guard Jake Kradel and tackle Carson Van Lynn – on the offensive line?
After it received a significant chewing out from Narduzzi during the game, the line will attract plenty of scrutiny from coaches during the off week.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .