Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi previews Louisville

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Photo: post-gazette.com

The following comes from Pat Narduzzi’s press conference on Monday where he previewed the Louisville Cardinals. You also get to learn more about the Panthers as he obviously gives updates on his own team, much like you would see in a weekly Bobby Petrino press conference.

Louisville Week

Opening Statement:

“Obviously, we’re excited for our kids going on the road and getting another big victory down at Duke. Going to that game, I think I told you guys, Duke is a tough football team. You know it was going to question our guys’ toughness. How tough were they going to be and who the toughest team was and we found out. Our kids came out and played with great toughness—the most toughness they had this year. Also playing with discipline. It’s a very well-coached team by Coach Cutcliffe, both offensively and defensively. So our guys had to make some key plays and they did that. So, we’re looking forward to this weekend. Coach Petrino is bringing the Cardinals in here. They always have a very, very athletic football team. Well coached, as you’ll see in most ACC schools and Power Five teams. I think they’re coming off winning six out of the last seven. They started off a little slow, but came back strong here as the season went on. Anytime you win six out of your last seven, after losing the first three games of the season, he’s obviously done a great job coaching them. A great challenge for us here at home and I think our kids will embrace it.”

On if toughness is the key ingredient on the road:

“It’s that key ingredient every Saturday, regardless if you have success or not. You have to have it to play this game. We talk about it a lot. I knew Duke was going to be a team that was never going to quit. We recovered that punt—they fumbled, then we fumbled right back—I was like, ‘Oh gosh.’ This is going to be one of those things that can crumble really quickly here when you think you have the momentum but all of a sudden you lose it. You turn it over and guys go ‘Uh-oh, here we go.’ But our kids hung tough there well, mentally and physically. You knew Duke was never going to quit and you had to go down there with that little bit of extra toughness.  Our kids understand that from the opening kickoff, when [Quintin] Wirginis makes that big hit. It’s something that you have to bring even more of every weekend, because they know they can give us more every week.”

On the increased production of receivers Zach Challingsworth and Dontez Ford:

“Dontez had made some plays throughout the year, and ‘Chally’ had not made as many…he’s made some catches that you and me could make and then he made some catches that you and me had no business being in the game to make. That was the great thing. They made some tough catches. You can walk away and say that it was a tough one but players make plays. [Challingsworth] made plays and that gives him a lot of confidence going forward with the rest of the season.”

On rotating “five running backs,” including receiver Tyler Boyd and safety Jordan Whitehead:

“It’s hard. I mean, you guys asked after the game about [Chris James].  It’s hard to rotate three tailbacks and then you have Jordan back there. We’ve said you would have never thought about him as a tailback but Boyd is still a receiver. He might get some handoffs. I guess he lies back there and he’s a quarterback sometimes.  But it’s hard. You can’t give them every rep and that’s why practice is so important.  You have to come out and show you know how to do it and do it, catch a football, and do all of the things right even when you’re not getting the ball. It’s easy to get the ball and hopefully make some plays but, it’s when you’re not getting the ball—maybe you’re a decoy or protections or whatever it may be—that you have to help out. You have be a team guy. So, it’s not easy. We just have to keep rotating through and see who gets hot and who has a good week at practice.”

On if the running game is approaching his desired level:

“I won’t know until after the season, I guess. Every week is a different chore. You’re going to face the 11thranked [rushing] defense in the country [in Louisville]. I think Coach [Todd] Grantham has done a great job. He did a great job when he was at Georgia. A physical unit inside and down the line their line is big, physical, and hard to move. So, we’ll find out after looking at where we were with Duke was last week but that’s way behind us. We need to look at where we’re going this week and we’ll see how our game measures up against their defense because it won’t be easy.”

On if the Duke game can be a blueprint for offensive success:

“Every week is a different game. Every week you could say that’s the blueprint, but this weekend, going in against a top 11 team in the country in rush defense, you could find out, ‘Hey, what happened to that blueprint?’ We’re going to look at our matchups and see what we can do against their best. You can’t just go into every game and say you’re going to run it. You have to see what we do well and what they do well, strengths and weaknesses. We have to attack those if they have them.”

On reserve defensive tackles Justin Moody and Jeremiah Taleni:

“After watching tape last week they did a nice job. I’m happy for those guys to get those reps in. If Moody would have intercepted that one pass on third down, he would have had an even better weekend. But both of them, we were happy where they both were. It gives you two returning guys for next year to know they’re going to be good players in the ACC and help us win football games. I was happy with where they were because it’s tough. It’s the guys’ first, really, full-time action where it’s meaningful time.”

On if they focus on graduate students when recruiting, like Nate Peterman:

“I don’t think you ever go after graduate transfers because who knows where they are. It’s not something we plan three years ahead of time or two years ahead of time like when we’re recruiting. We just knew that we had two scholarship quarterbacks and then you start to hear rumors and maybe go on a lead and see where it goes. Obviously [Peterman] was a great recruit for us. I don’t know if we had any at Michigan State through all of the years. Again, it’s not something you go look for.  There’s more and more every year. I don’t remember if we had any at all. It’s something that’s new now. It’s been happening more and more ever since Russell Wilson.”

On Nate Peterman doing a good job protecting the ball:

“Our offensive staff has emphasized it. We think it’s so important. Just that one turnover on Saturday will drive you nuts because it’s just such a huge key in winning football games, it’s so important to run the football without giving it to them. I’ll go back to that North Carolina game, as close as that was, that one turnover we had turned into seven points, which is the seven points we get beaten by the team that’s leading the Coastal Division right now. I think our guys see how important preparing is when you win or lose football games by [slim margins] that it becomes a priority.  It’s just like in the fourth quarter, we’re putting those guys in, and you have Whitehead going into the game late there. The ball you get in the next series is more important than the 10 yards you might get. If you gain one yard and we have the ball, as opposed to gaining 10 and losing the ball, it’s critical for a guy who does not have ball security. So that’s just something we’re emphasizing all of the time. You can’t win football games turning it over.”

On how Jordan Whitehead has responded physically to his increased role:

“I think physically he’s fine. Physically, he’s handled it fine. He’s a smart kid that takes care of his body. You don’t go in the training room when you don’t feel good, you go in there every day just to maintain your body. He’s a guy that does that, just working on those small muscles and making sure his body is right. If you don’t take care of your car and put bad gas and oil in it, then you’re going to have problems with it. He’s keeping his body fueled and maintaining it.”

On how to succeed on the road:

“I think it’s a little bit of everything. But it’s a game. If you want to make it about the road then you could’ve in the preseason put it up [on the board] and said, ‘Look at this road schedule, you have to toughen your butts up or we’re going to get our butts kicked.’ You try and just play it one game at a time and you don’t worry about where it is. I don’t think where it’s played is as important as who it is and how you prepare for the game. You have to prepare for them individually and you can’t look at the whole schedule at once and say, ‘Hey, look at all those away games.’ As a coach, you can behind closed doors with your wife and kids going, ‘Ha, look at this!’ But our kids are taking it one step at a time. We’re not worried about road games anymore. We’re worried about home games, and we have to win at Heinz Field here. I feel like we haven’t done it in a month-and-a-half.”

On safety Reggie Mitchell’s play on Saturday:

“Reggie is an experienced guy. He had a big hit down on the goal line on the tailback, I believe. A short-yardage play. He’s done a nice job. He’s come back. It’s just good to have him back and running again. I mean he helped us out on special teams and he’s a guy that affords Whitehead to go over and play a little offense if he needs to. He just gives you that opportunity. He’s done a nice job.”

On how hard it is for a player to come back after being out for a long period of time:

“It’s hard. It’s hard for anybody to stay focused, but [Mitchell] is a smart kid that sat in every defensive backs meeting and continued to pick it up—and special teams meetings. Things don’t change that much weekly, so I think it’s easier for him.”

On if Mark Scarpinato and Tyrique Jarrett will return this week:

“I don’t know. When we see that Thursday injury report we’ll find out, I guess. I have no idea, but I hope so. You just never know.”

On if Tre Tipton will see any action the rest of the season:

“Yeah, I expect him to. But it’s all in how you practice and what you’re doing. So he’s back and we’ll see. He’s just a young puppy. No [he is not injured].”

On if he’d like to recruit more in North Carolina:

“Yeah, we’d like to recruit anywhere where there are players. We’re not picking spots and saying we need to get a guy here just to get a guy. We’re looking for the right players. We’re going to recruit our own backyard first and then move out. It’s hard going down to North Carolina when there’s so many ACC schools right in that area, but if there’s a good player out there we’re going to try to get him.”

On if he thinks playing in the ACC gives Pitt a chance to recruit more in the south:

“No doubt about it. Kids can come watch our games. I’m sure there are kids that watched that game on Saturday, whether they’re Duke commits or getting recruited by Duke, who said, ‘Hey, I wonder what Pitt is doing here. They look pretty good. Maybe I want to go take a visit there.’ I don’t know, but it does give you an opportunity.”

On playing time being based on practicing well:

“I think it’s how you practice and it’s how you play, too. We have to see if you’re productive on game day. If you don’t make plays on game day and you practice well then what does that tell you? So, it’s a little bit of both. Practice is going to get you to the game. Then, when you get your opportunities on game day, then you have to show up. You have to make plays.”

On linebacker Mike Caprara:

“Mike is just a smart kid. He knows what he’s doing and he does a great job of communicating with our kids. Not only is he a productive and a good player for us, but he makes the other guys on the field better because he talks to them. He lets them know what’s going on. If there’s a tendency that we know or a little check that we need made, he does all those things. He gets it, and he really has one of the higher football intelligences on our football team. He’s had a heck of a year, and let’s hope he has a couple more good ones.”

On linebacker Matt Steinbeck:

“He had a great play on fourth down, the [fake field goal]. He made a play there. He was a little bit out of position, but he came back and finished it. He did a good job when [Nicholas Grigsby] needed a blow and he came in and he did that. He showed that he can do it on game day, too. So, he’s got to get more opportunities.

“[Coming to Pitt as a graduate transfer from Bucknell] was something he wanted. He contacted us about wanting to come back and play here. We watched tape on him and said he’s a good football player. Obviously he played safety [at Bucknell], and they ran a similar defense to us as well, so he kind of had some knowledge of what we did and he wanted to be a part of it.”

On Louisville’s offense:

“They have great skill, first of all. And [Bobby] Petrino does a great job on offense. He can call some plays. Garrick McGee is the offensive coordinator. I’m not sure who’s calling it, but Petrino has never been the guy not making those calls, so I think he calls a lot of it. And McGee, he’s obviously got a lot of experience. Not only is he a coordinator, but he’s a [former UAB] head coach. So they have a lot of experienced players and they do a lot of different things. I mean as you watch them, it’s a different game plan every week. You can run all the plays you’re going to run, but every week it’s a different offense we see. So you have to prepare for a lot of different players. And you talk about the second-half adjustments, but we’re going to have to make first-quarter adjustments because they do so much stuff. You don’t know what formation or personnel groupings—they probably have six to eight personnel groupings, or eight to 10 personnel groupings that they have on the field. They’ll rotate their quarterbacks in and out of there. Their quarterback is one of their leading rushers, so they can do a lot of different things. We’ll be adjusting as we go through that game, so they cause all kinds of problems for our defense. That’s why they score so many points.”

On if mobile quarterbacks are more abundant in the ACC than other leagues:

“I think there’s a little bit more in the ACC than what we saw in the Big Ten. But there’s some great quarterbacks in the ACC, so every week you have a guy that can run and he can throw, too. [Duke quarterback] Parker Boehme is a good football player. Even though he’s a backup, he’s a great football player.”

On if James Conner will play this season:

“I don’t know. We’ll see. I haven’t talked to him today. I don’t know [if he’ll practice this week]. He has worked out hard. We still haven’t had that conversation, we haven’t had time. That’s something where he’ll come to me if he wants to play. I don’t think he’s 100 percent right now, and he’s not going to go out there if he’s not. But he’s getting closer, so we’ll see. I don’t know [if he’ll play in the bowl game]. I have no idea. Possibly.”

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