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Pitt

Dabo must be careful Pitt doesn't get in his 'grits'

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, 9:06 p.m.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he doesn’t see much difference between the Pitt team that beat him in 2016 and the team he will face Saturday night in the ACC championship game.

“Defensively, they’re exactly the same, in your grits,” Swinney said.

That’s the Alabama native’s way of saying Pitt plays good defense.

“They give you no layups. They’re not a bend-but-don’t-break kind of deal. They’re going to challenge you and force the issue.”

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi was equally laudatory about his opponent, pointing out there is a gap between Clemson, which is seeking its record fourth consecutive ACC title, and the rest of the ACC.

“They are the benchmark of ACC football,” he said of the Tigers, whose only loss on the way to a national championship in 2016-17 was to Pitt. “I have a lot of respect for what he’s done and how he’s done it. He’s got everything he needs to be a champion.

“They’re able to get a lot of four- and five-star football players, and he can coach them, too. There are some places that get a lot of four-and five-star guys and can’t coach them.”

Someday, Narduzzi hopes Pitt can approach Clemson’s level.

“That’s what you work for. That’s where we want to be,” he said. “The only way to do that is to go out and beat them, and things start to build that way.”

Even if Pitt loses — and the point spread has settled at 27 1 2 points — Narduzzi could use his team’s appearance in the first championship game in school history as a recruiting tool.

“We lost a week of recruiting, so I hope this game does something for recruiting,” he said. “Every young man in high school would like to have an opportunity to play for a championship.”

If Pitt can’t be a champion Saturday, Narduzzi spoke like it can happen eventually

“With the tools we have in Pittsburgh with Western Pennsylvania football, you have an opportunity to do that here,” he said. “I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think we could be in Charlotte playing in this game.”

Unlike his stance three months ago, Narduzzi was making no predictions about the game. In fact, he seemed almost embarrassed about his promise to Pitt boosters in August that Pitt would reach the title game.

“I wish I remember saying that. I’m going to have to get video of that,” he said. “My wife said, ‘You say a lot of things sometimes.’ ”

Before Narduzzi came to Pitt, Swinney said he knew him only by reputation as the defensive coordinator at Michigan State.

In recent years, however, the two have started building a friendship, including one memorable meeting on a Nike-sponsored trip to Costa Rica where they spent an hour talking football in a pool with Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio.

Swinney said the water was so cold he didn’t want to get in, but he had no intention of letting the two Midwesterners show him up.

By the end the conversation, Swinney said he was numb.

“I’m a wimp. I’m from Alabama,” he said. “I don’t like the cold water. We had a good laugh about it.”

Since then, he’s learned a lot about Narduzzi.

“He’s a lot like (Boston College coach) Steve Addazio,” Swinney said. “There’s no gray area with Pat. He’s a very passionate guy, loves what he does, loves the players. He’s about all the right things.”

Get the latest news about Pitt football and all things Panthers athletics.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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