Pitt notebook: Pat Narduzzi retains trust in struggling kicker Alex Kessman
Win or lose, no team leaves a game totally pleased. There are too many plays and players. Plus, opponents are constantly trying to make your team look bad.
Coaches always will have something to complain about during Sunday video study sessions.
Such was the case after Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi recorded his fourth victory against a ranked team on Saturday, beating No. 15 Central Florida, 35-34, at Heiniz Field.
There is a troubling trend developing around kicker Alex Kessman, who missed two more field goals Saturday — from 35 and 41 yards. He is now below .500 for the season (3 of 8) after previous misses from 50, 45 and 19 yards.
The good news is Kessman, who was 13 of 17 last year and has six career field goals between 53 and 56 yards, had touchbacks on five of his six kickoffs. That’s the type of weapon that makes a defensive-minded coach such as Narduzzi smile. Despite the misses, Kessman appears to have retained the trust of his coach.
”Kessman had a really rough time with field goals. We’ve got to get that straightened out,” Narduzzi said. “But I told him after that second miss: Don’t worry about it. You’re going to kick the game-winner. And he did kick the game-winner, whether it’s an extra point or not.
“So great job by him coming back because that’s not an easy kick, as well.”
The backup kicker is freshman Sam Scarton, a walk-on from Hickory High School.
Defense remains solid
Although Pitt’s defensive coaches didn’t like UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel throwing for 338 yards while leading his team to 34 points and 423 total yards, the Knights averaged 51.7 points and 604.3 yards of total offense in their previous three games. Pitt not only outscored UCF by a point, it amassed 16 more total yards.
The keys were two interceptions — the first turnovers this season — and six sacks. Pitt sacked Gabriel twice on UCF’s final possession after the Panthers had taken the lead.
Pitt’s 18 sacks are tied for fourth in the nation with Wyoming, behind Virginia and Florida (20) and Ohio State (19).
Pitt also played much of the second half without starting cornerbacks Jason Pinnock and Damarri Mathis — on top of previous injuries to defensive linemen Rashad Weaver and Keyshon Camp.
Backup defensive backs Marquis Williams, Therran Coleman and Erick Hallett were pressed into service. Hallett finished sixth on the team with four tackles.
Pitt’s run game took steps toward improvement, with A.J. Davis, Vincent Davis and V’Lique Carter combining for 103 yards (65/34/4). But the three longest runs from scrimmage were recorded by quarterbacks Kenny Pickett and Nick Patti (17 and 14) and wide receiver Maurice Ffrench (14).
Surprising stat you probably didn’t know:
Pitt is second in the nation in pass attempts (180), behind Washington State (200), whose quarterback Anthony Gordon threw 61 times, with nine touchdowns, in a 67-63 loss to UCLA on Saturday.
Pitt’s pass-catching duo of Ffrench and Taysir Mack remain second in the nation in receptions (58, 31/27), behind Hawaii’s Cedric Byrd and Jared Smart (59, 33/26).
Narduzzi now has four victories against ranked teams, one per season since 2016. No. 2 Clemson (‘16), No. 2 Miami (‘17) and No. 25 Virginia (‘18) are the others. At the moment, there are no ranked teams remaining on Pitt’s schedule.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .