Paris Ford’s ejection leaves Pitt without key playmaker in secondary |

Paris Ford’s ejection leaves Pitt without key playmaker in secondary

Jerry DiPaola
Pitt’s Paris Ford (12) tackles Duke’s Aaron Young (81) on Oct. 5 in Durham, N.C.

When strong safety Paris Ford was forced to sit out the first half of the Syracuse game last month, Pitt won anyway, 27-20. In an odd twist, the Orange managed only two field goals without Ford on the field, but scored both of its touchdowns after he returned in the second half.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi must push his luck again Saturday at Heinz Field.

Ford, who was ejected for the second time this season after another helmet-to-helmet hit in the Virginia Tech game, is ineligible for the first half of the Boston College game.

When Narduzzi was asked if he discussed the penalty issues with his repeat offender, the coach was very clear with an answer.

“What issues? I don’t think Paris has got any issues,” he said. “I’ll take 25 Paris Fords. He ain’t got any issues.”

After the game, Narduzzi labeled the hit that got Ford ejected “a great tackle.”

But it can’t be argued that the NCAA’s zero tolerance policy on helmet hits has significantly impacted Pitt this season. Free safety Damar Hamlin and outside linebacker Phil Campbell III also were tossed for such hits but did not sit out the first half of the next game because their infractions occurred before halftime.

Narduzzi’s reluctance to discuss the issue publicly is not a surprise, but the bigger shock would be if he has not addressed it with his team. The subject probably came up a time or two this week.

Pitt can’t afford to keep losing key members of the nation’s ninth-ranked defense, especially when penalties of all sorts have been a particular problem for the Panthers. Pitt has committed 94; only Syracuse, Tulsa, Florida State and Cincinnati have been flagged more often.

Ford’s absence might hurt a little more than it did at Syracuse, with Boston College running back A.J. Dillon, No. 3 in the nation with 1,507 yards, coming to town.

No matter how the Syracuse game turned out, Pitt doesn’t want to play any opponent without Ford. He might be the best defensive back in the ACC, with statistics that surpass those of the three national finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award — LSU’s Grant Delpit, Georgia’s J.R. Reed and Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah.

Ford, a redshirt sophomore, leads the Panthers in tackles by a wide margin (82 to 62 for runner-up Damar Hamlin) and is No. 1 among all ACC underclassmen.

He’s also forced three fumbles (seventh in the nation), defended 14 passes (10th) and intercepted three of them (one for a touchdown).

Meanwhile, Delpit, Reed and Okudah have recorded only 28, 25 and 20 tackles, with significantly fewer passes defended (six, six and seven).

Pitt’s defense is populated with several important players, including cornerback Dane Jackson, who has 11 pass breakups, and linemen Jaylen Twyman and Patrick Jones II, who have combined for a total of 18 sacks.

But Ford brings energy and constant conversation that keep teammates alert and aggressive. What’s amazing is that Ford has improved so much in his only season as a starter.

Ford and Campbell were named the most improved defensive players in spring drills this year when Narduzzi said of Ford, “He’s always been fast, he’s always been physical, and he’s always been a playmaker.” He carried that into the season.

By rule, the 6-foot, 190-pound Steel Valley graduate can enter the 2020 NFL Draft because he’s been out of high school three years. That’s an issue for another day, however.

For now, Pitt must figure a way to win with its play-making safety only playing the second half.

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

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Pitt
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.