Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi confronts play-calling issue, maintains stance
Before anyone could ask the only question about Pitt football on anyone’s mind, Pat Narduzzi tried to get behind the steering wheel of the runaway bus and bring it to a stop.
“I know it’ll probably come up,” he said, reading the room correctly, “so I figured I’d address it first.”
Four minutes into his Monday news conference, Pitt’s coach doubled down on his justification for opting to try a field goal from the 1-yard-line when the Panthers trailed by seven points late in the fourth quarter Saturday at Penn State.
“(We) trusted our defense was going to get a stop. I was hoping we’d get a turnover,” he said. “We got the ball back with (1 minutes, 56 seconds left). We expect our offense to do their two-minute and go down the field and score.”
His plan failed when Alex Kessman missed the field goal and, the offense, which drove to the Penn State 26, could not score. In a related issue, Pitt has not scored a touchdown in the second half since last year’s Wake Forest game (a span of six games).
Two minutes into his explanation, which was not appreciably different from what he said Saturday at Beaver Stadium, he clearly had tired of the subject.
“Enough of that. We can debate it for the next 10 years,” he said. “And maybe we will because we probably won’t play (Penn State) the next 10 years.”
Finally, he said, “I apologize to Panther Nation (for the loss).”
He hoped that put an end to it.
But when a reporter diligently pressed on, asking, “Three feet out, why not?”
Narduzzi said, “I explained why not … and I feel good about it.”
Narduzzi admitted his only regret was the three previous plays from the 1 didn’t work.
“I’m not a guy who’s going to put a square peg in a round hole,” he said.
But he added, “I’m not getting frustrated with the short-yardage (offense). It’s just getting the right looks (from the defense) and letting your guys execute. It comes down to execution, OK. Plays don’t make plays. Players make plays. I thought we had the plays, and we just didn’t do it right.
“It will come. It just takes time to get them to trust.”
Perhaps the play selection would have been different if 280-pound fullback Rashad Wheeler had been in the game and healthy.
Narduzzi had been waiting for the right time to use the Central Catholic graduate, moving him from the defensive to the offensive lines and, finally, to fullback this summer. A blocker of Wheeler’s size could have led one of Pitt’s running backs into the end zone, instead of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple calling the quarterback bootleg and quick passes that failed.
But Wheeler is injured — Narduzzi didn’t specify — and he was unable to be more than a decoy on a previous play.
When Pitt had fourth-and-1 on its 43, Narduzzi figured Wheeler’s presence might indicate to the Penn State defense a run was coming. He was right. Quarterback Kenny Pickett hit tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart for 36 yards in a vacated sector of the secondary to keep the drive alive
“He was just a decoy, an injured decoy, and it was really good, and it worked,” the coach said of Wheeler. “So I appreciate him going out there for that one play. He might have gotten another one, but I think that was his one play.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .