Pat Narduzzi hopes Pitt avoids a Penn State 'hangover'
Word spread throughout the college football world Sunday about Pitt’s embarrassing 51-6 loss to Penn State.
While getting ready to gauge how eager his team is to soldier on, coach Pat Narduzzi received a text message from one of his former coaches.
“(A coach) I’ve got a lot of respect for, and he said, ‘The sun will come up the next day,’ and it did,” Narduzzi said. “It didn’t come out and shine very bright, I can tell you that, but it did get lighter out.”
Rain soaked the region during and after the game, and Pitt’s most lopsided loss to Penn State in 50 years — and its worst ever at Heinz Field and under Narduzzi — left some questions about the program unanswered.
Since the three-game winning streak that ended the 2016 regular season and included the upset of eventual national champion Clemson, Pitt is 6-9, with only three of those victories against Power 5 schools.
Asked if he thought the program would be further along after three-plus seasons, Narduzzi had no appetite for such an all-encompassing question, especially since he will probably adopt the James Franklin weekly mantra of let’s be 1-0 while preparing for Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech.
“You know, we’re not going to measure anything after a game, OK? One game, two games, three games. Nothing is measured like that,” he said. “You are where you are. Everybody has got goals, but Georgia Tech is the most important game right now.
“Goals are great things to talk about during summer camp, but when you get to this time of year, it’s about — we break down every day, ‘Beat Georgia Tech.’ Game 1 doesn’t matter, and Game 2 doesn’t matter. I can guarantee you that. The only thing that matters is Game 3 and Georgia Tech. We can’t have a hangover.”
Of course, the point most fans — blinded by the 45-point loss to a hated rival — are missing is there are 10 games left in the season. Much can happen, good and bad.
But it’s not unusual to have high expectations, especially with what appears to be a promising young quarterback and 17 seniors (16 in their fifth year) on board.
But Narduzzi doesn’t want to lay the current misfortune at the feet of the seniors.
“At different positions you’re younger than others, and guys respond differently,” he said. “When you look at the fifth-year seniors, did they have any part in some of the things? Probably not. When you look at the critical errors, it’s young guys at critical positions. There are young guys and older guys. It’s not like all the people stepping out on the field are fifth-year seniors.”
Pitt is young at quarterback, the game’s most important position. Narduzzi said the key to fixing Pitt’s dormant passing game is to give Kenny Pickett more support and ease some of the pressure on his shoulders.
“It starts with the protection and making sure Kenny feels confident in the pocket,” he said. “Kenny’s pressing a little bit. He’s got to relax and just do his job.”
In his third collegiate start, Pickett completed only 9 of 18 passes for 55 yards and an interception against No. 10 Penn State. He was sacked four times and repeatedly forced out of the pocket.
“There were receivers open,” the coach said. “I don’t know if he gave it as much time as he needed to.”
“He feels like he’s the man, and he has to do it himself. He’s not by himself. He internalizes it and tries to put more pressure on himself and we can’t do that as coaches, either.
“We can’t force-feed it down anybody’s throat. That’s where he is. He will be great and he will be better this week. I promise you that.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.