Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi doesn’t excuse defense, but questions ‘yellow hankies’
Among the optimists remaining in Pitt’s fan base — and their numbers aren’t necessarily growing — there’s a natural tendency to make excuses for the 30-14 loss to Virginia.
It might be a reach, but here’s one:
Virginia’s three touchdown drives of 19, 29 and 27 yards were shorter in totality (75) than either of Pitt’s two scoring marches (80 and 85).
How about that, Pat Narduzzi?
“I’m still (mad) at (the defense),” Pitt’s coach said.
You can make the point Pitt’s offense set up the Cavaliers with good field position after a blocked punt, interception and a turnover on downs late in the game. As a result, the defense was at a disadvantage.
“How do you evaluate them? It’s hard,” Narduzzi said.
“We gave them touchdowns when we wanted to give them field goals, and we gave them three we wanted to give them zero. To me, the evaluation is one three-and-out on defense ain’t good enough.”
Narduzzi isn’t shy about spreading the blame over all three phases of his team, but he’s also quick to defend his defenders when he believes it’s appropriate. Especially to one of the officials during the game.
Pitt committed five penalties, two more than Virginia, but not bad for an opener. Three of them were pass interference calls on defensive backs Dane Jackson and Damar Hamlin, all within the first four snaps of a scoring drive and all inside Pitt territory.
“They had some drives kept alive by some great coverage and the yellow hanky coming out,” Narduzzi said, a bit sarcastically.
“It’s like I told the official on our sideline. ‘Hey, (the pass catcher) can’t get off the press (coverage). Tell the guy to get some separation. Then, it won’t be a hold. The guy (Pitt defender) is going to be in the NFL next year, and you’re going to call a penalty on him because the guy can’t get off. It’s not his fault.’
“There wasn’t any tugging going on. He’s just all over him.”
A few questionable (in Narduzzi’s eyes) pass-interference calls aside, Pitt has plenty to work on this week in preparation for nonconference opponent Ohio on Saturday at Heinz Field.
“(There were) a lot of self-inflicted wounds as far as what we did, not what they did,” he said. “You don’t look at it and say, ‘Wow, we got outmatched.’ It was just carelessness, I would say, on our part.”
He called the loss a learning experience, with the hope his players don’t repeat their mistakes. How devastating would losing to a MAC team be with subsequent games against No. 15 Penn State and No. 17 Central Florida?
The loss shouldn’t come as a total surprise — Virginia was a slight road favorite — when you stop to consider Pitt is almost totally rebuilding its offensive line and backfield.
“Two (offensive linemen) who have played before (Jimmy Morrissey and Bryce Hargrove) played well,” the coach said. “The other guys who didn’t have starts before (Carter Warren, Gabe Houy and Nolan Ulizio) played like you, maybe, thought they might, or you were hoping for more than what you got.”
Quarterback Kenny Pickett was sacked four times and hurried on seven other occasions, resulting in Pitt converting only one first down in the second half.
Part of the problem was Virginia running a blitz it had not used in previous Pitt games.
“They did run a blitz we didn’t expect, and they ran it quite a few times,” Narduzzi said. “It seemed to always be on the right side. I don’t think our new guys reacted to it as well as we need to.”
The timing in the passing game was off, and for that everyone shares blame.
“It’s throwing the ball on time,” Narduzzi said. “We had guys open more than you would think. We have to hit them. We have to catch them.”
Yet, Narduzzi did not second-guess his gameplan that emphasized putting the ball in the air. The problems in the passing game came as a bit of a surprise.
“We can always look back and say (we should have run more),” he said. “But when I see all the open receivers, you’re saying, ‘Throw it to that guy, really quick and let’s go.’
“If you knew we wouldn’t throw it to the guy who was open, yeah, `Let’s just go and run.’ When you see open guys you say, ‘Man, we had a chance to make some big plays.’ ”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .