Pitt pins hopes on cornerback Jason Pinnock against Notre Dame
Before he thinks about covering those big Notre Dame pass catchers, worries about what the loss of middle linebacker Quintin Wirginis means to his defense or wonders if the offensive line can protect quarterback Kenny Pickett, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi must perform an important task Saturday:
Keep the Notre Dame band quiet.
“The first thing we have to do is make sure that the band’s not playing when our offense has the ball,” Narduzzi said. “I played there enough times (he’s 1-3 at Notre Dame Stadium as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator).
“Shoot, they’d come to our place at Michigan State (he’s 2-1 there against the Irish) and have their band on the sideline playing music all the way up until almost the ball is snapped, until I go crazy or someone goes crazy.
“We have to keep the band playing when they’re supposed to be playing, not when our offense is under center trying to play and call a cadence. That’s a big factor we’re going to have to get under control as well.”
Even if he finds a quiet, controlled environment (he won’t), Narduzzi has bigger concerns than the band.
It starts with the Notre Dame pass catchers. Narduzzi said they resemble tight ends.
Three of the Irish’s top four pass catchers are 6-foot-4 or taller, including actual tight end Alize Mack (6-5, 247 pounds). Leading pass catcher Miles Boykin is 6-4, 228, with 28 receptions for 428 yards and three touchdowns. Chase Claypool (6-4, 227) has 18 for 200 and two scores.
So, expect Jason Pinnock, Therran Coleman and Paris Ford, all 6-foot cornerbacks, to get plenty of playing time for Pitt.
“Actually, I’m a little taller,” Pinnock said.
Only a sophomore, Pinnock played most of the game against Syracuse with a mandate to cover 6-5, 224-pound Jamal Custis, who ended up with only three receptions and no touchdowns.
“I tell (defensive coordinator Randy) Bates every week, ‘Just put me on their biggest guy,’ ” Pinnock said. “That’s what I was recruited for, to take away their biggest receiver.”
Does Bates oblige?
“I think he will after last week,” Pinnock said.
The most interesting angle to his story is Notre Dame offered him a scholarship a month before signing day, but he gave Pitt a verbal pledge not long after that.
“Just loved Pitt,” he said. “I’m here.”
“Jason’s played well the last couple weeks,” Narduzzi said. “He was banged up earlier in the year. It took him a while to get back and get his swag back.
“You’re looking for matchups. We do feel good with some of our big corners going against their big receivers. We’re not going to get pushed around or bullied out there.”
Losing Wirginis, though, will the most difficult hurdle for Pitt to overcome.
“Quintin is really the heartbeat of our defense,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve been fortunate to be healthy most of the season. Sooner or later, the injury bug is going to hit you.
“Sad for him and his family. We can’t sit here and worry about it.”
He said sophomores Elias Reynolds and Chase Pine will replace Wirginis, but he declined to name a starter. There are no plans to move Saleem Brightwell back to the middle, though he started 12 games there last season.
“Those guys weren’t ready a year ago,” Narduzzi said of Reynolds and Pine. “That’s why we went with Saleem. They’re ready now.”
Narduzzi said he didn’t know if Wirginis, who was redshirted last year, would be eligible for a sixth season. “If there’s a way, we’ll work it, that’s for sure,” he said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.