Panther-lair - Narduzzi on Penn State, stealing signs and more
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Narduzzi on Penn State, stealing signs and more

Pat Narduzzi talked about Penn State, the environment at Beaver Stadium, signal-stealing and more on Thursday. Here’s the full rundown of what he said.

Narduzzi: Kind of excited. Thursday afternoon. We finished our third practice. We’ve had, really, three really, really good days, maybe - probably the three best days we’ve had this year so far. I think that shows you kids are growing up a little bit and, again, like I said, I expect to see some improvement from Week Two to Week Three. But just looking forward to the game. A lot of mental preparation, physical preparation’s done and we’re excited to go. So it will be interesting.

You talked on Monday about getting on a bus to go up there. You did this a couple years ago, but how does your gameday and pregame plan change when you’re making a road trip that’s only a few hours? How does it work - are you just going to go up there for the day or are you going to spend the night?
Oh yeah. We’re leaving tomorrow at noon. We’ll have plenty of time. We’ll go to the stadium, we’ll go to the locker room, check it out, let our kids see where they’re going to be so they can put their heads on the pillow and visualize where they’re going to be and where they’re making plays and what they’re doing, so it’s a road trip. It’s a road trip, period. We stay in a hotel every Friday night, period. That’s what we do. So it’s not a big deal.

Doing anything differently from what you did two years ago from a logistical standpoint?
Yeah, logistically probably because I’m superstitious. Last time, we went to Altoona High School and worked out; this time we’ll do all our work right here in our facility. Then we’ll head to the hotel.

You guys stopped on the way that Friday?
Yeah, last time. So we won’t do that this year. That’s the only thing different.

Have you settled on a running back rotation now with Davis and Davis and -
V’Lique, Sibley, who knows? You know, not really. I think you’re going to start to see the two Davis guys go first. But again, we’re just going to find out who’s making plays. If Sibley comes in and starts to run it like crazy, then we’ll go with him. V’Lique - who knows? We’re going to play the hot hand and the guy that looks like he’s ready to roll.

We talk all the time about getting your mind right and being ready to go, but sometimes, you know, one guy’s got his mind a little bit cleaner than the other guy, so it’s, how did they sleep? Did you stare at your phone from bed check at 10 pm to midnight? I don’t know what you did. How did you sleep? Who’s going? But hopefully we can have a three-headed monster back there and we’re running three guys and they’re both doing well. That’s a good problem.

How about a freshman in that environment with that kind of pressure?
There’s pressure every game. I don’t worry about Vince. He’s played in two games already; obviously the last two plays of the opener and I’m not worried about him. He’s kind of made plays in games and once a first play is over with, it’s just like playing anywhere else. It’s what it is. It’s a football game, whether you’ve coached in it, played in it, it’s one play that you might be nervous and then it’s like, let’s go. And it’s gone.

We talked with you Monday about whether you think Pitt and Penn State should play every year, but as a coach, as a football fan, as someone who grew up pretty close to western Pennsylvania, with it being over for the foreseeable future, is there a certain sadness that comes with it or disappointment?
I’m not sad. I’m thinking about Saturday. I give a darn about what happens in the future. You know, control the controllables. I can’t control it, it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to be sad. I’m not going to cry. It’s what it is. It’s a shame, but I’m going to control - you know, we have Penn State right now. That’s all I’m worried about. I’m not worried about if we’re going to play them in ten years, honestly.

So where’s the balance between making the players appreciate what this game is, but also trying to say, don’t worry about who you’re playing, it’s just another game? How do you balance revving them up but not too much?
Again, this week has been about us. Saturday becomes about the game. But the game is not being played in Tuesday’s practice, Wednesday’s practice or Thursday’s practice, so that’s really how we balance it. It’s just another game. The opponent changes on Saturday, and that’s when we’ll get them cranked up and ready to go, but you don’t want to get them cranked up too early. It’s a game. And they’re going to do the same thing. It’s what you do.

How does Penn State compare to the Barkley/McSorley teams that you’ve faced?
It’s hard to say that when you’re sitting back watching videotape. I think when you get them up live - I’ll tell you after the game, for sure. Ask me that question after the game, I’ll tell you. But we’ll find out.

I mean, I can tell you this: Barkley and Miles Sanders had experience at the tailback spot. They’ve got two very talented - the Slade kid is a very talented football player. We’ll find out how he plays in a big game, just like we’ll find out how Vince plays. Same thing with Sean Clifford; we’re going to find out. McSorley was a seasoned guy the last two years; it’s not like he’s a…so we’re going to find out. That’s all…who knows?

You’ve played a fairly challenging nonconference schedule every year you’ve been here. What do you feel like your team, win or lose, gets out of these games where you’re playing difficult competition early in the season?
I think it’s the same thing that Clemson gets out of it. We’ve talked about that before: when you’re playing good competition, it’s going to make you better. It hardens you. It prepares you for the future, I think. And again, it’s another game this week. Obviously, it’s a rivalry game, but it’s another game in our path that helps us prepare for a run at a championship, a division championship and then move on from there. That’s what it is. It prepares you. We’re prepared right now to go into this game, I think. We’ve played two good teams. So I think it’s preparing us to get where we are tomorrow.

The session tomorrow morning before you get on the bus, is that just a walk-through?
Yeah, that’s just a walk-through.

The production you guys have had from the tight end position has obviously increased from what it was last year. Is that something that Kenny’s doing different? Is that just Coach Whipple’s offense? Or is it those guys themselves making plays now?
I’d say a little bit of both. If they drop more balls, that production will end real quick, okay? If you don’t get yards after the catch, it ends. Like I told you, I challenged Will Gragg - “That’s great, you caught the ball and you fell down. How about people bouncing off a tight end? That’s what it’s supposed to be when you watch those great tight ends, so if you want to be a great one, you have to make something happen with your feet.” Then all of a sudden, they start to get some YAC.

But it’s a combination. I think it’s certainly the offense. I’d say it starts with Whipple and giving the tight ends the ability to catch the football, but then when your opportunity comes up, you have to make plays. They’ve dropped a couple but they’ve made more catches here last week and that was, again, a nice surprise.

Elias started Week One at Mike, then Chase starts Week Two. What’s the separation between those two and Saleem at that Mike spot?
We’ll find out at game time. That’s a good question. Who’s going to be the starting Mike? Who’s going to start? I don’t know. We’ll find out. That’s an interesting - that will be an interesting one. It will be fun to watch.

Jerry, why are you laughing up there?

Because I think you do know.
I know. I do know. I know who’s going to start. They don’t know and you don’t know. But you’ll find out.

How did Chase grade out when you looked at the film from the game?
He graded out good. Wish it was better. But again, he’s gone back and forth from the Money position to Mike - it was okay. If he’s the guy that starts Saturday, he’s got to play better. So we’ll challenge him.

When I asked him after the game what went into that, he said that part of it had to do with Kylan playing well at the Money; is that - you felt like you had a luxury to move Chase around?
Yeah, we have a guy that is solid there. You’re not worried about, ‘Man, if Kylan doesn’t play good, we have to put Chase in.’ So we kind of - we’re trying to get our three best ‘backers on the field that are available at one point. That’s kind of what it is.

How has the offensive line looked in practice this week and how prepared do you think they are for the challenge of facing that defensive line and guys like Gross-Matos?
We’ll find out. I think they’ve had a good week. Coach Borbs has got them prepared. There’s no task easy when you go out there, so it is going to be a game that the lines have to play well. We always talk about being up front - it’s the O-line and the D-line, it’s going to be a challenge, period. That’s where the matchup’s going to be. And you have to win up front to win the football game. I have no question about that. So we’ve got to win that battle.

You talked earlier this week about handling crowd noise, silent counts - do you have to put more emphasis on that in practice, especially with an offense that’s throwing the ball more than it has in previous years?
There’s no question about it. I don’t think the passing or running has anything to do with the crowd noise, because once you get the snap, it starts to quiet down; everybody’s watching the ball through the air or watching the guy run or get hit. But it’s the pre-snap: it’s getting the ball off, it’s getting communication in the huddle and as you line up, communication with the O-line, D-line - those are all things that we’ve got to get good at and we’ve practiced that in camp, we practiced it this week.

I can’t believe you guys didn’t ask any signal questions. Are you guys sleeping?

They changed their signals.
They changed their signals? They did.

He said that on Tuesday.
That’s what I heard.

The day Petrishen got here, he changed them.
Yeah. So let’s just talk about that for one second, just so we can - I can get this off my chest. First of all, John’s 21 years old. I haven’t said anything about - they have Eric Thatcher at their place. He sat in the defensive meeting rooms for two years; did you guys know that? So Eric Thatcher’s in recruiting, I’m sure he’s a ball coach this week trying to fill them in on what we do. I think a 35-year old over a 21-year old guy that’s been playing one position - I don’t think he’s worried about offensive signals or defensive signals. I really do. He’ll know the defensive signals.

But I just wanted to - it’s a funny subject. I think you guys - it would help to just be educated so you kind of wonder, ‘The signals, what happens with signals?’ First of all, defensively, you can’t steal an offense’s signals because we have no time. We’re busy getting our own signals. I hope our guys can get our signals. Do we think we’re going to - are we going to signal our defense - just think about how this works: are we going to signal to our defense our defense and then tell them what the offensive play is? There’s no time for that, okay? Our eyes are on our kids.

I mean, signals - we could have their notebook. If I had their notebook sitting right here which, maybe I do, I don’t know. Do I have his notebook? I don’t know, Jerry. But I could have their notebook; that ain’t gonna help me win a football game, I can promise you that, okay? So defensively, your hands are tied. You can’t steal signals. That’s me. And maybe I’m just a dumb defensive coach.

The way you can steal - let’s go to the other side of the ball. Our offense. Can our offense - like, John Petrishen’s a defensive guy: can John Petrishen give us their defensive signals and help us? How is Coach Whipple going to get that defense - there’s a play clock, too; it’s not like they’re going to give us two minutes to take a snap. If that was the case, maybe we could. But how does - and again, maybe we’re just all not very good coaches and we haven’t been thieves, I guess, but usually the people that are paranoid are the people that are stealing them, I guess.

But how can we get a defensive signal out there? I mean, you guys help me out. Help me out. But the people that steal signals, just so we’re on the same page, are the teams - just watch this tomorrow: if our quarterback is up there and he goes (clap) like this and then he looks to the sideline, maybe we’ve got their signals and now he’s signaling and changing the play to get to a good play versus that defense. That make sense? Does that make sense? A little signal clinic?

So that’s it. The team that looks to the sideline, they’re doing it for a reason: they’re trying to steal your coverage signals, whether it’s your safety signal and stuff, it doesn’t matter what it is. That’s what you’re trying to - have you seen Kenny Pickett ever look to the sideline to get a second call? To me, when you watch a game tomorrow or there’s a Thursday night game, people that look to the sideline are usually the ones stealing the signals. People that don’t look to the sideline are just running a play. Does that make sense?

It’s just funny.

Why do you think he made such a big deal?
I don’t know. Because - whatever. I don’t know.

How pervasive is that in college football? Or is it coach’s paranoia?
There’s coach’s paranoia. And I’m paranoid. I’m not going to tell you I’m not paranoid. We put a tarp up. We’re all paranoid. You don’t want anybody to do it - like I said, sometimes you don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t know. You don’t know if it’s happening or not, so I understand the paranoia. Again, we’ve had these things up. We actually put cards up just to block the box, okay? The cards mean something sometimes; sometimes they mean nothing. I don’t know. We need to put Jerry - can you make sure we put Jerry’s face on a card the next couple weeks? We’ll get Jerry up there.

But sometimes you put pictures up there that matter, sometimes they don’t. It all depends. But a lot of it is to just cover up our signals a little bit so that they can’t see from the box. But you can steal from the sideline.

Again, I’d say that I don’t know how you’re stealing signals for a defense, but on offense, I know signals are stolen and it’s the guys that will rush up - if a team is rushing to the ball and they’re getting lined up real quick, defensively, you just have to give them a call. So there’s people trying to keep you vanilla defensively because you don’t have time to do something crazy, as far as the call goes, so they keep you vanilla. You get lined up and then they look to the sideline and get an idea of who signals because you have to signal real quick. They find out who the dummy guy is; we all have dummy signalers. But it’s just hard to do.

There’s a big discussion next door about who’s going to wear the green dot on defense this week -
What’s the green dot?

That’s the radio in the helmet. Offense and defense, one guy gets to wear a radio in the helmet. The quarterback and you can pick somebody on defense.
So they don’t know who’s wearing it?

They have a green dot on the helmet so you know who it is?
Oh really? I didn’t know that.

Would that make it easier if college football did the same thing?
It’d make it easier. That’s something that NCAA football has got to do. I think it would be good for the offense, it’d be good for the defense. Signals are - because there are some signals that get stolen. I totally agree. And again, I think it’s more defensive signals getting stolen because they control the tempo of the game. Defense doesn’t control the tempo. If they get up on the line, we’ve got to go get lined up. We don’t know when they’re going to go.

So they did have a reason for changing? So the offense can -
We can’t, though.

Defense can’t, but the other side can.
We can’t steal signals, because we don’t look to the sideline. You’re not following me.

But no, because we don’t look to the sideline - I think you can steal people’s defensive signals. I think you could. But I think the only way you can do that is if you are looking to the sideline to get a - if someone gets ahold of your defensive signals - okay, we got our signals stolen back in 19-whatever. We’re at Northern Illinois. We open up at Northwestern. I find out afterward, [Northwestern’s defensive line coach] was like, ‘We had all your calls.’ I don’t know who the guy way - Kevin Johns stole them. So they got stolen a long time ago. So I know what happens. But at the time Northwestern was a fast tempo, one of the first teams to go fast tempo, Kevin Wilson was the head coach, or the offensive coordinator. They tempo’d you so they could get you to line up real quick, find out who the signaler guy is and then they just kind of knew what you had going on from there. And then the D-line coach told me, he said, ‘We got your signals.’

Isn’t it easier just to run your offense?
It’s easier for us. Again, it would be if you’re a fast-tempo, get lined up real quick, pretend like you’re going to snap the ball, look to the sideline - that’s kind of how you do it. Does that make sense? But if you don’t look to the sideline, you’re not stealing signals, I can promise you. And we haven’t stole any signals because we don’t do that. I’d like to do that. I think it’s a great technique. But a lot goes to it.

You have run a little more tempo. How do you feel like that’s been an addition to your offense?
Just mixing it up, I think, is a good thing. Get guys tired, can’t sub. But I think it’s been okay. I think it’s been okay. We’ll see. It only matters what you do Saturday, not what happened before. So the tempo’s got to be good.

It sounds like you’re really challenging your team. You’ve got Gragg being challenged to get YAC and Pine changing positions and freshmen putting aside being freshmen. Do you like putting a lot on their shoulders in a game like this?
It ain’t on my shoulders. Our work is done during the week as coaches, but Saturday, the players, that’s what they do. They want the pressure on themselves, too. Players play either good or bad in big games, so they want the pressure. Everybody wants the ball. Everybody wants to be the dude. That’s what we do.