Narduzzi on going to Notre Dame
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Pitt's next challenge is a trip to Notre Dame, and here's what Pat Narduzzi had to say about that at his weekly press conference Monday.
Narduzzi: All right, guys. Obviously a fun weekend, a weekend that obviously you're proud of your kids, the fight, the grit they had in them, the ups and downs in the game of football, and I gave you probably a lot of details after the game, and there's not a lot of details after the game that you watch on tape that you kind of saw it like it was out there. Still a lot of details that we have to clean up, can clean up. A lot of things happened out there good and bad, just like they do every win or loss. But just proud of the football team, the way they stick together. Again, like I said, a lot of grit and guts that this football team has, and that's how you win football games.
We've just got to continue to progress. Obviously proud of the discipline they had, and we had three penalties on defense, two offsides and a pass interference, which was a good call, and probably you'd say do it again. We made a slight adjustment after that one play and they never could go back to it again so it was a great job by our coaching staff. But a lot of great performances out there. I hit most of them, I think, on Saturday after the game, so I'll just leave it to you guys to ask questions about those if you want to go backwards.
But I'm looking forward to Notre Dame, and when I say I'm looking forward, I don't know if I'm looking forward to playing the No. 5 team in the country because they're awful good. Maybe as good of a football team as you're going to see, that Notre Dame has ever had, I think. Ian Book is -- you hate to say it every week, could you face a better one, but I think McSorley is excellent. I thought McKenzie was excellent. I think Dungey is excellent, but he scrambles, making plays with his feet.
Now all of a sudden here we've got a guy named Book, the guy named Book. You're like, where did this guy come from, where's Wimbush. Wimbush is really good, St. Peters Prep High School, Jersey guy, and then there's Book, and Book is -- offensively he's making things click. He can run. He's tough. He'll run you over. Jerry, you'd better watch out on the sideline if you're standing around. He'll take you out, too. He's got the whole package. I think they've found their guy. Their tailbacks, their wide outs.
Defensively Jerry Tillery, the Tranquill kid at linebacker. They've got a football team. Their receivers are big. I can't tell the difference between their tight ends and the receivers. I think our guys are going to get confused. They put them all in 80 numbers and you can't tell. They're all big. They're all fast, and we'll have our hands full when we get out there Saturday…
What are all the elements that go into a big upset?
Narduzzi: You know, we're not thinking about big upsets, we're thinking about us. We're thinking about the guys in this room and us doing the details of what we need to do to be good on the first play of the game, and then as soon as the first play of the game is over, we go to the next play and play one play at a time, and that's how you win football games. We're not talking any upsets. We never do. We're talking us and being a better football team and executing.
It's a matter when you execute and you believe in what you're doing, those are the keys to playing well and having a chance to win the football game. That's all -- you just want a chance. We have yet to do that. We get to go on the road, which is always another challenge. We'll be playing -- I've been in that stadium plenty of times. I know what it's like. I've sat and watched tape of 2015 when they came here, what they did and how they did it, all their screens. We've seen everything.
And they're very similar to what they were then. They don't change much. Brian Kelly, Coach Long is the coordinator, but Brian Kelly, he's a master, offensive guru, and he's a great football coach. He may not be calling it, but I know he has a lot of input because you see his fingerprints over everything they do on offense, and then Clark Lea, their defensive coordinator who came from Wake, has been there, I think in his second season, first year as a coordinator, does a good job and very sound. I've known Clark, I've sat in a meeting room with Clark and talked football and defense. Guy is as sharp as you can get, and there's no doubt why they're having success, because they're consistent. They're smart. They've got good players. They keep it simple. And they let those guys make plays.
They've got some creatures out there. The Tillery kid is 6'7", 305. He's a monster. They should probably have a new cartoon after that guy. You've got Superman, you've got ‘Tilleryman.’ That guy, he's a beast.
What kind of makes Notre Dame different from Penn State and Central Florida? How are they different than those teams?
Narduzzi: You know, they've got guys from all over the country, first of all. Obviously they've got some great Pittsburgh kids, PA kids on their football team. But they recruit all over the country, so they've got flavor everywhere, and they've been recruiting long enough to have what they want in their offensive and their defense, and I think they walk into high schools, they get what they want. Let's put it that way. You know, they've got a beautiful place to sell, and it's a great product and kids love it. So I mean, they walk into a high school, it's -- I don't want to say it's easy because nothing is easy, but it's easy to recruit, and they get some players.
The Clemson win, the Miami win, how much does that experience maybe help your team going into a game like this?
Narduzzi: You know what, it's a different football team. That was a year ago, two years ago. It's a different football team. It's a different culture as far as who they are, who they think they are, who they've become. But you know, just like Jerry asked I think a very similar question, you take it one day at a time and one play at a time and see what happens. But the focus is not on, A, let's go do this because you don't get here unless you get here, and we've got to do the one thing, one play and focus on what we do, and then the rest will take care of itself. If you take care of the little details, the big things take care of themselves, and the big thing would be an upset, but the upset is not going to happen if you think about the big things. It's all the fine details of what we need to do that are critical.
You mentioned struggling with some protection against Syracuse's defensive line. Obviously run blocked really well. Is that sort of a first for you when you have an offensive line that's doing really well in one aspect and kind of struggling on the other at the same time?
Narduzzi: No, it's not -- again, is it struggling at it, or those dudes -- I'm just telling you, Syracuse's D-line is legit. I don't think Clemson has got a bad offensive line, either. We knew going into that game they were really good, and then you saw it, and then we had some busts that didn't help, and we gave -- we didn't do some things right, too, protection wise. Hopefully there's a guy on him. But we took -- some of our motion stuff took away some of the things they did, but they're a good football team. You know, they'll win a lot of football games here the rest of the year. They've got Florida State, Clemson out of the way. I think they'll roll through the Atlantic Division with their tempo and with their players and with what they do. They need to keep their confidence because they've got a good football team.
Do you feel like you guys are run blocking better?
Narduzzi: Yeah, I mean, obviously. They like to run block. They like that attitude stuff. So we certainly are. Was it -- again, people have been blitzing us even more. They see a little weakness, your resume is what you put on that videotape, on that screen, and when you show that, hey, maybe pressure is causing you problems, we're going to see some pressure at Notre Dame and we've got to react to it. We've got to have a good game plan and we've got to give our guys a chance. We've got to give Kenny a chance to sit in the pocket and make a decision, and we haven't done a great job at that.
First play of the game, he shoots it out there and then after that it felt like we didn’t get in a rhythm where he’s got time. We’ve got to give Kenny time.
Therran Coleman’s not listed on the two-deep. What did the coaches see in him--
Narduzzi: He’s not.
Narduzzi: Therran’s done a great job, let me tell you. That two-deep, E.J. doesn’t even show it to me anymore. (Smiles) He just says, hey, you want to change anything? I say, yeah, throw an ‘Or’ on there just to mess with them a little bit. We don't look at depth charts very much, but Therran Coleman guys, Therran has gotten better. I'm just so fired up for that kid. He needed that. Damar Hamlin is playing at a high level. You guys will figure that out here pretty soon. But he's playing really good. Therran is playing good.
I think it's like I told the team last night, you never know when that one play is going to be that one where you make an impact and it changes your whole life, and that one play could change his whole career as far as what he's doing here. It'll give him more confidence walking in this door tomorrow for practice. He needs to practice at a higher level. Sometimes he doesn't practice as good, as he's like, oh, for sure, Coach, I'm a gamer, and I'm like, well, you'd better start to be a ‘practicer,’ too. But Therran is a super kid. He's always got a smile on his face. I'm happy for him because I think it just helps him in his confidence moving forward.
And he's a guy that played for us last year at Syracuse up there and we had a lot of confidence. He came out of that game, and how much nickel do we run. This is a week that with these big old receivers that we need some big old corners, I can tell you that, and Therran is a guy that we're going to play some nickel, we're going to play some base, and he'll get some reps at base corner, as well, and he can also be a safety, as well.
He's earned -- he's made plays. I've seen guys go out on the field and cover guys but not make plays. That was a heck of a catch of a [potential Syracuse] catch. That wasn't just an average catch. That wasn't like a -- I remember we've had catches where you catch it like this, and you could have caught it, Craig, and I haven't seen your ball skills but I'm assuming you could. I know Jerry could because I've seen his athletic ability already. But that was a great -- that was great coverage, great route, and he made a play at a big time of the game. That was a monumental play, and I'm happy for him.
When you're in nickel, is that more help for your cornerbacks than they get in your base defense?
Narduzzi: No, they're always on an island. You watch college football, you watch pro football, they're on an island.
An extra guy back there helps.
Narduzzi: Come on, man. There's always 11 guys. Tell me where that extra guy is coming from.
In the secondary?
Narduzzi: Where is he at? They're not going to let us have 12. We're going to have to have another clinic with you, I guess, jump at the podium over there and go. But no, there's 11 guys out there just changing up who they are, where they're at. But like you said, we won't give away the game plan.
But it puts another speed guy on the field. That's what it does. But it doesn't put any extra -- there's no extra players anywhere. Everybody has got to do their job, and it just moves things around a little bit. It's not really a gigantic deal, it's just different.
Do you like the way they've played nickel the last two weeks?
Narduzzi: I do, yes, it’s been good for us. Better this past week for sure.
You talked about Pinnock two weeks ago. Mathis played a lot and pretty well last week. How has the development of those guys made that transition easier for you to take on?
Narduzzi: Yeah, I mean, the last two weeks it's been two different nickel guys, and let's just look at match-ups and who matches up with who. We felt like we needed our corners to be bigger like we'll need this week and put a smaller guy inside so we're able to use Mathis inside. We need Pinnock outside, and Pinnock, really the corner spot we're playing the hot guys. Jason Pinnock had a great week last week, I guess for the UCF game did a good job at the nickel, then he goes and has another great week at corner. He's playing at a high level on special teams. But we're playing the hot guys, the guys who are doing little things right. It's not about who's the best and who's the best player out there. It's about who's making the plays and who's doing the detail things right, who's doing the right thing in practice and in the game, and that's who gets to play out there.
Phillipie didn't get as many reps, maybe because of size and match-up more than anything. I really kind of felt bad after the game because he's played at a high level all year, but Jason Pinnock was playing good, so it was like, leave him in there. Keep him up there. He's big. That 17 [for Syracuse] was a good football player. We pretty much -- I think he had one catch, kinda. I don't know, but --
Amir Watts had that interception last week. Is that like a new wrinkle or has that been there all along?
Narduzzi: It's been there all along. We just decided to highlight him there. It's just another tweaking, I guess. I'm happy for Amir. I told him I think that ball got stuck in your chin strap; I don't know if you really caught it or not. But again, another kid you're happy for. He's worked. He's had a really good year. He works his tail off every single day, and he's a good kid. He played that perfect. He could have occupied the guy a little longer, but we've dropped off guys all the time, and whether it be a D-end, a D-tackle or a Mike that will show up and get out. So we've got ways of moving guys around, but that was part of what we did last week, and we actually did it against them last year, too, you just didn't notice it because he didn't get a pick. So it was something we thought would be good against him, and sometimes it works, and sometimes the quarterback scrambles up the middle and the D-tackle is dropping out of there and it's not good.
Do you feel like your defensive line is pretty athletic to have a tackle drop back at that play? Guys like Weaver and Folston stood up. Does their athleticism give you the versatility to do things like that?
Narduzzi: It does, but whether you stand up and put your hand down, I don't know if there's a whole lot of difference there. We've got to make plays on the quarterback. They're going to keep the quarterback and the quarterback can run. We've got to be disciplined this week, and Ian Book is a good football player. We'll see how athletic we are this week when we go to South Bend.
With your offense, are there some things you can do in terms of play calling just to sort of build the passing game back up? Is there a need to sort of either build the confidence in them or just get them in a rhythm?
Narduzzi: We've got to get them in a rhythm, and again, you take what they're giving you. I don't know, 16 of the last 17 plays we ran the football, and pretty much threw the ball the one time just to stop the clock because we were running out of time-outs, you know, to see if we could take a shot and win the game instead of putting it into overtime. But you do that. You almost give up a sack, you take another hit on your quarterback. But we've got to progress. That's a goal this week is we've got to get that passing game going against an athletic secondary and an athletic pass rush this week, so we've got to do some good things to help change it up.
There were less penalties against Syracuse compared to UCF --
Narduzzi: There were a hundred less.
Is there something you can point to in the preparation or is it just more details and discipline?
Narduzzi: You know what, just it's -- I don't know what. Sometimes I feel like they're listening to us. Sometimes -- you know how you've got with your kids. How many people got kids in here. I know your kid doesn't listen to you. It's like sometimes they're listening and sometimes it goes in one -- I just hope they've learned their lesson that if you play disciplined -- if we had nine penalties again, we're not winning. It's too close of a game and you're going to give it up. Seemed like every time we had a turnover the week before, there was a penalty at the same time. This week we've got scoop-and-score on Dane Jackson, was a textbook strip by Quintin Wirginis, it was just perfect, and then you go to Watts and then Therran is in there.
Last week it's -- every time you had a chance to light the team on fire with something, Damar Hamlin takes an interception all the way down to the 3-yard line or whatever and he gets called back, you can't -- we must have the worst luck in the world.
But sometimes that happens. I can't tell you about the penalties. Maybe -- can't tell you about them. I don't know what we did, but it finally struck home, and hopefully they learned. They did a heck of a job, and I told them that last night, and we've just got to keep doing that. Offense has zero penalties, special teams, zero, and they get you to jump offsides every week, they get you something with the clap there. But they get people to -- and they jumped offsides, too.
I know you coached there when you were at Michigan State, but what will it mean to take a team into that environment given the history of Notre Dame?
Narduzzi: How about the history of Pittsburgh? We've got some great history here. Notre Dame is a great institution, great place. I'm Catholic, I love Notre Dame, but this is a football game. We're going to walk in there. It's a business trip. We're going to stay in the hotel, we're going to get them up in the morning, we're going to drive our bus to the stadium, we're going to get out, we're going to go through some cement walls to a locker room, and we're going to put our gear on and we're going to go out and go.
I don't know if there's a difference. It's all about the football game. We're not going to go to the Basilica or go see Touchdown Jesus. We're not taking any tours. We're going to play a football game.
Will the atmosphere affect Kessman, or are you comfortable with him out there on a 55-yarder?
Narduzzi: I was comfortable last year sending him on the road. We talked last night just with his three big kicks. I'll be shocked if he's not ACC player of the week, special teams, because he had that kind of -- EJ usually gives us an announcement so he's probably getting a text message as we talk. But I had confidence a year ago, and I think about how far he's come from Youngstown State a year ago, his first -- you talk about how guys mature, we've got some young guys on this football team.
You think about where Kirk Christodoulou is going to be next year at this time, I think he's got a cannon. He's a little inconsistent still, but he's come a long way in four games, and that's what's going to happen with youth. Jake Scarton just with his holds, but Kessman is -- those were three big-time kicks. Those weren't little league kicks.
But he did that a year ago in practice, but it takes time. Jerry didn't become a great writer overnight. I'd say it's taken probably a lot longer than his boss would like. But -- sorry. But I'm impressed with what he's done, and he can go on the road. It doesn't faze him. He's got a lot of confidence right now, too. That just helped his confidence. He can hit it from anywhere. If you let a crowd bother you, then you've got issues. I think he'll be fired up for it. I think he'll embrace it.
How many rock concerts have you been to in your lifetime?
Narduzzi: One. Two.
Tell me how you learned to jump on mosh pit on Saturday (Syracuse postgame celebration). Have you seen that video?
Narduzzi: No. I don't know what you're talking about. I don't have any idea. I forget where I was. I must have lost my mind.
There were 16 kickoffs in the game Saturday, one returned for 15 yards. Would you be in favor of doing away with opening kickoffs?
Narduzzi: Well, I mean, we did a study before the year. That's a great question, great football question right there. We did a study before the game, and I know people get upset when you do this. But we gave our -- Maurice Ffrench a rule. Coach Powell did a great job. You stand on the goal line inside the hash, and if you have to take one step backwards or you take one step to the right, you fair catch it because it's just too hard to get it timed up. And you look at even when they took it out, where did we tag them at? They returned one kick and they got it to the 20-yard line. If he does this -- I think it was the 20.
But if you do this or it goes out of the end zone, you get the 25. In favor of it, yeah, and then we won't have any mess-ups where we fair catch it on the 2 and take a knee or we don't fair catch and you drop it. There's a lot of new rules with that rule. But we looked back a year ago, and when you return one in the opener for a touchdown and you go, hey, let's return them all, and then after that then you're getting tagged, and we talked about that field position every week about how we're stuck down in the end zone and we're at the 13-yard line and our average field position is the 19. Some of that is because guys trying to make plays and take it out of the end zone, and then -- 25-yard line is a great place to start, let me tell you. It's a lot better than the 10-yard line or the 15 or the 20.
I think it's just a matter of who's running down the field for you, how are we blocking them, and 25-yard line. We looked a year ago, we would have had better field position the entire year based on if we would have just fair caught every ball. We even talked about it beginning of the season, you take one to the house and you start to get greedy and think, let's go make a play. Maurice is pretty special, and he's a special player.
But there's a lot of -- it's not just about the returner. It's not just about where he catches it, it's about those guys blocking for you and the guys coming down that are on scholarship, too, so I think there's a lot to it. Eliminate it or just keep doing what we're doing; I don't think it's a bad thing. I don't know if you -- it's just more change.
For a game to start off without a kickoff would be kind of be sacrilegious kind of, a little bit. Just kick it off in the end zone, start at the 25 and let's go, just so we can let the kickers do something. They're on scholarship, too. They get paid a lot of money just to kick field goals and extra points. Might as well at least see if they've got [strong] legs.