Perfection is nice for Pitt, but turnovers would be even better | TribLIVE.com
Pitt

Perfection is nice for Pitt, but turnovers would be even better

Jerry DiPaola
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Pittsburgh defensive back Dane Jackson (11) and linebacker Phil Campbell III (24) chase down Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins (3) in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

If there’s one lesson Mark Whipple has learned in four decades of coaching football, it is this: You hang around long enough, you’ll see it all.

That’s what happened to Pitt’s offensive coordinator over the past two games. He was a sideline witness to perfection. The only problem was the other teams — Ohio and Penn State — were perfect, too.

At least as far as protecting the football.

“I’ve never in my career been in two (consecutive) games where there’s been no turnovers on either side,” he said. “That’s unbelievable.”

Credit quarterback Kenny Pickett and his mates on offense, who have yet to lose a fumble in three games. After a shaky start, Pickett has thrown 92 consecutive passes without an interception. The only blemishes were two he threw in the opener against Virginia.

How bad does coach Pat Narduzzi hate turnovers?

He scolded a reporter for using the word pick (another word for interception) during his weekly media briefing Thursday. He also put the blame for the loss to Virginia on two mistakes, one of which was an interception.

“If we don’t turn it over in the opener, we probably win that game, too, because of the short fields,” he said.

He lumped a blocked punt in with an interception, even though it’s not exactly a turnover. But it’s a mistake and a gift for the opponent. Both plays led to Virginia touchdowns in a game Pitt lost by 16.

From there, however, the Panthers (1-2) gave themselves a chance the past two weeks.

“We have to keep taking care of the ball,” Whipple said. “That’s one thing we’ve done a good job of. If we do that, we have a good defense, we have a good team and the points will show up on the board.”

Narduzzi credits Whipple, the teacher, and Pickett, the pupil, for keeping the past two games clean.

“It’s coaching. It’s (Pickett) making good decisions with the ball,” Narduzzi said. “Knowing where to go with it. Knowing when to throw it away and knowing when to tuck it and go. I think that comes with time.

“Give credit to Kenny for working so hard. He’s probably in there right now watching tape.”

The only the problem, though, is Pitt’s defense hasn’t gained a turnover in the past five games, dating to Miami on Nov. 24, 2018. Pitt hasn’t picked off a pass since a week before that against Wake Forest.

“We’re worked the heck out of getting turnovers,” Narduzzi said.

At Penn State last week, strong safety Paris Ford picked off a pass at his 3 and returned it the Penn State 45-yard line.

A game-changing play?

Hardly.

Linebacker Cam Bright was called for pass interference, and Penn State scored two snaps later.

Earlier, linebacker Phil Campbell III sacked quarterback Sean Clifford, and the ball popped loose 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Pitt ball in Penn State territory?

Sorry.

Penn State recovered.

“Phil Campbell should have knocked that ball before he even hit the quarterback. The ball should have been knocked out of the hands,” Narduzzi said, describing a drill the team runs every day in practice. “It would have taken a different bounce, and we would have scooped and scored and we wouldn’t be having any conversation about the game.

“You have got to have a little luck to have turnovers. Sometimes, it just bounces the wrong way.”

When Pitt plays Central Florida on Saturday at Heinz Field, turnovers could decide the outcome. UCF has scored 31 or more points in 29 consecutive games, but it can’t score without the ball. Defensive turnovers would help Pitt snap that streak.

“Last year, we messed it up,” Narduzzi said, referencing interceptions by Damar Hamlin and Dane Jackson that were called back because of penalties.

“Dane Jackson had what looked like great coverage, and it gets called back by a PI,” Narduzzi said.

Pitt lost 45-14.

“We’ll have our opportunities, hopefully, (Saturday),” the coach said, “and we have to take advantage of it.”

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
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