Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi focused on Miami, not rankings or ACC standings
Pat Narduzzi made his plea Monday to the media, knowing he might have been wasting his breath.
While players and coaches try not to get distracted while preparing to play Miami on Saturday at Heinz Field, the talk surrounding Pitt’s program is about the four-game winning streak, why the Panthers (5-2, 2-1) aren’t ranked and what it will take to again win the ACC Coastal.
All of it makes Narduzzi cringe like someone stepped on his foot with football cleats.
“I don’t want our kids getting caught up in it,” he said. “You (reporters) don’t have to ask them any questions about that this week. It just doesn’t matter, the standings or anything else.
“We’re ranked at 1-0 last week, and this week we’d like to be 1-0 as well.”
For the record, Pitt is a half-game behind unranked and first-place Virginia (6-2, 3-1) in the Coastal standings. This is more information than Narduzzi needs, but Pitt would lose a tiebreaker with the Cavaliers, because of its head-to-head loss in the Aug. 31 opener.
Bottom line: Pitt does not control its destiny other than aiming for the school’s first 10-victory season in 10 years, an achievement equilvalent to winning the Coastal. But if Virginia wins its final four conference games, it will represent the Coastal in the title game Dec. 7 in Charlotte, N.C. If Pitt loses one of its remaining five, Virginia must lose twice.
Narduzzi said his players are focused on their immediate tasks most of the time, but he also is a coach and a father who knows how teenagers and young adults think and act.
“They’re focused (on football),” he said of his players. “Sometimes you have to wake ‘em up in here (team meeting room). Sometimes they’re focused on their phones. (In) my team meetings I say, ‘Put your phones down. Put them away. I don’t want them on your lap.’ “
It’s those phones that put the Associated Press Top 25 at the players’ fingertips and, thus, in their minds.
“I don’t really care (about rankings),” Narduzzi said. “There were a lot of people in the top 25 (preseason), and they’re not there anymore (eight schools, including preseason No. 12 Texas A&M).
“Our goal is to be there at the end of the season.”
Pitt is not ranked in this week’s poll, but it received 17 voting points from eight of the 62 pollsters, one of whom, Mark Whicker of the Los Angeles Times, has been writing about sports since 1974. He put Pitt at No. 22. Overall, only 27 schools received more voting points than Pitt.
But there are still many problems Narduzzi and his staff must clean up if Pitt can keep alive its hopes of a second consecutive date with Clemson in the conference title game.
Among them are protecting the quarterback, running the football and avoiding penalties.
“We didn’t protect (quarterback) early in the Syracuse game at all,” Narduzzi said. “I was not happy on the sideline about letting our quarterback get hit.
“We did it later on, which was good. I thought we kept him pretty clean for as many times as we threw the ball.”
Pitt has allowed only 15 sacks, but it happened three times at Syracuse.
While Pitt is fifth in the nation and first in the ACC in pass attempts (298), it has not developed a solid running game, which ranks 12th in the conference.
Junior A.J. Davis returned last week after missing two games and ran for 103 yards. He has climbed to the top of the depth chart.
Probably of greater concern is the preponderance of penalties. Pitt is 127th of 130 FBS teams and last in the ACC in fewest average penalty yards per game (82.6).
NOTE: Pitt’s Nov. 2 game at Georgia Tech will start at 4 p.m. and be televised by AT&T SportsNet.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .