Pitt notebook: Pat Narduzzi says eliminating kickoffs would be OK with him
Pat Narduzzi isn’t petitioning the NCAA to eliminate kickoffs from college football, but if it happens, he wouldn’t protest.
“Nowadays, it seems like you get less and less of those opportunities to return,” Pitt’s coach said Monday during his weekly news conference.
“There seems to be more and more touchbacks. They’ve taken the return game out of college football.”
A touchback occurs when the football is kicked out of the end zone or the returner chooses not to run it out. The football is then placed at the 25-yard line.
In 2012, the NCAA moved the starting point for kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35. The idea was to create more touchbacks and increase player safety.
It has worked. The NCAA charts touchbacks and noted a significant increase since 2016.
This season, through last Saturday, there have been 4,459 kickoffs and 2,178 touchbacks (48.8 percent). In the previous three seasons, touchbacks have gone from 38.8 percent in 2016 to 42.4 in 2017 and 45.5 last season.
This season, Pitt’s opponents have recorded 16 touchbacks among 30 kickoffs. Pitt kicker Alex Kessman is 16 for 28.
Eliminating kickoffs “would save us 10 minutes a week in practice,” Narduzzi said. “I think sometimes your kids feel the same way, (saying) ‘We’re not going to get a chance.’
“Based on the way it is and how good the kickers are kicking the thing in the end zone, (eliminating the kickoff) wouldn’t bother me.”
After Rutgers player Eric LeGrand suffered a spinal cord injury defending a kickoff in 2010, former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano proposed replacing the kickoff with a fourth-and-15 opportunity from the 30-yard line for the team kicking off.
That team could choose to punt, fake a punt or run a traditional play to try to earn a first down. The latter choice would replace the onside kick, which has failed on eight of 11 attempts in the ACC this season.
Schiano’s idea never gained much traction, so teams still must practice kickoffs on both sides of the ball.
You never know when someone will break one for a score.
Only three years ago, Pitt’s Quadree Henderson returned a school-record three kickoffs for touchdowns. Maurice Ffrench did it twice last year, but he’s had only three returns this season for 69 yards, thanks to the proliferation of touchbacks and teams kicking away from him.
But Narduzzi said with fewer game-day reps, “the harder it is to get real good at it.”
This season, only three schools — Utah State, Virginia and Western Michigan — are averaging more than 30 yards per return. Pitt is averaging 19.3 (11th in the ACC) while holding opponents to 18.7. Eliminating kickoffs and moving immediately to the 25-yard line probably wouldn’t bother many coaches.
When Pitt plays Syracuse in the climate-controlled Carrier Dome on Friday, Narduzzi doesn’t expect his returners to get many chances. The Orange’s Sterling Hofrichter has recorded 19 touchbacks and opposing returners have had only 10 chances in six games.
When Pitt plays Syracuse on Friday, strong safety Paris Ford, who leads the team in tackles (45) and interceptions (two), must sit out the first half, part of his punishment for the targeting penalty late in the Duke game.
Narduzzi said Jazzee Stocker and Bricen Garner will be next in line to replace Ford.
Narduzzi said there is no way to appeal the ruling after the game, but he said there should be a process in place.
”The appeal is when they go up to the box (for video replay),” he said.
Cleaning up penalties
Pitt is last in the ACC in penalties yards per game (83.2), and Narduzzi made a point of reminding his players.
“It’s going to come down to fundamentals, execution and discipline,” he said of the Syracuse game. “I’ve been disappointed the last couple weeks with some of the way the flags have been thrown around, and I don’t like where our discipline is.
“Really, Syracuse had the same problem (next-to-last, 74 yards). We’ve got to correct that. It’s hard to win on the road, as I told our team (Monday) morning before we practiced. Hard to win on the road when you don’t do those little things well in all three phases.”
Noon for Miami
Pitt’s game against Miami on Oct. 26 at Heinz Field will kick off at noon. The game will be televised on ESPN or ESPN2.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .