Narduzzi on 'rebound week,' the option, the coin toss and more
Pat Narduzzi held his final press briefing of the week on Thursday, and here's a full rundown of everything he said.
Narduzzi: We had, really, three good practices again. I can tell you, our kids came out to practice, happy with where we are right now. It’s rebound week. We made a lot of mistakes last week, so there’s a lot of corrections to get through this week. I think I like where we are. It’s going to be a big challenge. Georgia Tech is no slouch. They’re a great football team. I’m impressed with - the more tape you watch, the more you go, ‘Golly.’ We know it’s been a ball game every time we’ve played them; it won’t be easy. Two wins, we’ve come down to kicking field goals. Time of possession is critical; we all know that. Keeping it out of their hands and keeping it in ours is critical. So our offense has to move the chains and our defense has got to get off the field. Those are two critical things.
Big game. ACC number one and our kids are cranked up for it.
One area where they have kind of struggled this year and in previous years is on the road, for whatever reason. Is there anything you guys can identify as to why they don’t play as well on the road?
Narduzzi: No, I’m worried about our guys defending their formations and our guys defending their front and coverage. That’s all stuff we don’t control. That’s not my job. They’re a good football team. I have a lot of respect for Paul Johnson and what they do. Maybe it’s because they play really good teams on the road; I don’t know. But I don’t think there’s much to it. Maybe luck? Or just the way it’s happened. I don’t think there’s anything to playing on the road, playing at home - it’s a stadium, there’s grass, it’s 100 yards long, there’s white lines, there’s numbers and there’s hash marks. What else do you want in a football field? It should not be a factor either way.
When you played Georgia Tech last year, their running back KirVonte Benson had about 200 yards and two touchdowns; how much does his absence, based on what you see on film and from your experience playing them, how much does that affect them and how much does that change your approach?
Narduzzi: That’s a great question. It’s funny, when you look at what this team does, this is what makes them good. You can go through the first game in 2015 and then you look at ’16, look at ’17, you know, Paul Johnson is a genius when it comes to offensive football. He knows that - he knows his scheme so good and he’s the offensive coordinator, okay? It doesn’t say it anywhere that he’s the OC, but he’s the guy making the calls, he runs out on the field and makes calls, he checks, I think he’s the quarterback, too. But he’s so good; if you look just two years - forget the first year; the second year, they come out and we do a good job stopping the dive, the keep and the pitch. So what do they go to? They started motioning a receiver and getting us out-flanked by numbers, because they’re all looking for numbers, and they ran a toss. We couldn’t stop the toss.
So last year, what did we do? We stopped the toss. Okay? Then all of a sudden, they found a different way to run the dive. I’m not going to get into specifics, but they just blocked it a little bit different, they felt like they had a bead on what we were doing, how we were doing it and then they got the dive going. Benson did a great job and he’s a great player.
So what is it going to be this year? Wherever you load your guys up…they put their guys there and they know what they do so they can tell. There’s 11 guys and they strategically from their press box are seeing where our guys and they know where their angles are. That’s the difficult thing> that’s why nobody really stops that, because they kind of go, ‘Oh, you’re doing that today? Okay, we do this.’ They know what their answers are.
Benson’s a great player, but their system is built. They’ve got another guy to step up behind him. Just like Tobias, that guy came in at backup quarterback and three straight touchdowns. So they’ve got backups. They’ve got athletes everywhere. That next guy - it’s next man in, he’s a good player, too. He started the opener against Alcorn. He’s a good player, too. So they’ll be ready.
You guys are 0-2 the last two years the week after Penn State; have you noticed anything about the team that might have led to that?
Narduzzi: I didn’t know that. No, I haven’t noticed anything like that. Who were the opponents?
Oklahoma State was one.
Narduzzi: Oklahoma State was pretty good…again, it goes to - you know, we can go back to, ‘you’re 0-2 after that game,’ we can go to the road games, is that what it is? Or was it, Oklahoma State was pretty good and was a top-ten team last year and we weren’t? I don’t know. That’s what I would say. I don’t know who that other team was, but I think if you start to look at all those things, we could probably come up with a lot of things.
It wasn’t using all your emotion up for that one game?
Narduzzi: No. No. I hope not. I’ll have lots of emotion. My emotion won’t be used up.
You came off a 59-21 loss to Oklahoma State the week leading up to Georgia Tech last year; how much is this week different? Similar type of outcome, at home but you’re going into conference play -
Narduzzi: Yeah, it’s kind of like [the last] question. If you hadn’t mentioned that - if you hadn’t mentioned it, I don’t know. And if I don’t know, do you think our kids really know or care? I mean, our focus is on Georgia Tech. We’re not worried about what happened in 1952, I hate to tell you. Our kids forgot last Saturday. Our kids forgot a lot of things. They probably forgot what they ate for dinner last night. They forgot to do their homework. The dog chewed it up, whatever it may be. I think our guys are locked into Georgia Tech, and that’s where they better be or we’ll have a problem Saturday. Because it won’t be easy.
You said you wanted to clean stuff up, but how much does what happened last Saturday even matter, given that Georgia Tech’s offense is unique?
Narduzzi: You know, when you clean up offense, defense, fundamentally there are a lot of things you can clean up. But maybe what I thought even more of is special teams. They’re going to punt the football to us; we’re going to have to manage the football. They’re going to kick off to us. So there’s all the special teams that are all the same. The only thing different about Georgia Tech is what they do offensively. Defensively, they line up, they have 11 guys on the field and the same thing when they punt, they kick off and their return game. It’s all the same there, so that’s how to answer that.
How much pressure does the option put on your offense because you know you’re not going to get as many possessions as you would in a typical game?
Narduzzi: I mean, they don’t get as many possessions; it’s all the same. I think we had 15 possessions last week. It’s been about 10 or 11, depending on the turnovers. If there are turnovers, obviously there can be more possessions; they’re shorter possessions, usually. But it doesn’t put any more pressure on. We know every possession is important and we haven’t said, ‘Hey guys, you’re not going to have many this week so you better make sure you -‘ you know, you hope they don’t need to be told that when we get the ball, we want to score. That’s our goal: to score the ball when we get it, regardless of how many times we get it.
Morrissey said he looks forward to matching up with that big number 54 and having him on top of him all game. What have you seen out of that guy?
Narduzzi: He’s a beast inside. He’s a space-eater in there. He does a good job. He’s been active. We’ll have to attack him and it will be a challenge. And again, everybody’s got that one-on-one. Jimmy’s looking forward to that one-on-one, everybody’s looking forward to their one-on-one. There’s one-on-one matchups all over the field that we’ve got to win. If everybody wins their one-on-one, it can be a good day.
What has been Shawn’s emphasis with Kenny this week as they’ve tried to build from that game?
Narduzzi: You know, just trying to make sure Kenny knows, ‘Hey, you’re not all by yourself out there.’ I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that before, but Kenny knows what he did and didn’t do. That’s the great thing. Kenny will learn from his mistakes, I’m sure. I’ve talked about how consistent that guy is; there’s nobody on our football team more consistent, and he wasn’t consistent that night. Why? I think last week someone asked me the question, what’s the difference in the two quarterbacks? Well, one’s got a lot of experience and one doesn’t have as much. And that’s a major deal there.
It’s your first time playing in a rainy game; Miami wasn’t wet, Albany wasn’t wet. It was wet. It’s different. Everybody talks about the elements; you’ve either played in it or you haven’t, whether it’s at Heinz or away or practice, they’re all different. So there’s a learning curve there, I think, and not just for him but any young guys. You look at, we have some older guys, we have 19 seniors, but you look at some of the spots that maybe we weren’t as good as we wanted to be, there were some young people in those positions. You know, first-time holder, first-time punter, second-year snapper - those are still young guys. That was the rainiest game Cal played in as well.
I’m sure you expect your wide receivers to step up this week; did you see anything from anybody in practice that gives you confidence that your receivers will step up?
Narduzzi: It’s a combination of receivers, the protection and the quarterback. And the quarterback, I mean, if you go back and watch the tape, there’s some receivers that are open; we just have to get them the ball. Again, it was not a great night to throw the football, but we have to get it to them. We have to have patience in the pocket and all of those things. So I think our receivers will step up. Did I see anything this week that tells me they’re going to step up more than last week? No. So if that’s any indication, we’ll find out. But I thought they were good this week and they have to make plays and we have to get them the ball. We have to protect the quarterback.
Because of the way last week played out, was there any extra time this week on special teams and trying to clean up some of those?
Narduzzi: Yeah, we took extra time. We actually made a little bit longer special teams period. We had a little bit of emphasis later on in practices, kicking a few extra field goals, just sudden change, let’s go, you don’t know it’s coming, we’re going. Spot the ball at the 20-yard line, left hash, left middle, whatever it is, and kick a few extra ones of those. Then had a little bit of extra special teams afterwards, just to kind of get them together and get a little bit more emphasis. And I spent a little bit more time down there, too, just making sure they were doing what I want them to do.
You’ve got three fifth-year senior linebackers plus Saleem Brightwell, who has played against this offense; how important is those guys’ individual experiences, when it comes to weaning out assignments?
Narduzzi: Anytime you have the experience of playing in it - and Quintin didn’t play last year; he played a little bit the year before, not as much as you’d like, so Quintin will be the new guy in there. Elijah played it and can run. He made some great plays last year, just chasing down the quarterback. I was like, ‘Oof,’ he looks fast when you watch it and I think he’s bigger and faster this year. But it’s always a major advantage if you have those game reps, you’ve been there against this team before. And really, everybody up front has, I believe, played against these guys, so it will help us in the front seven and it will help us a little bit, hopefully, on defense. You have to get off the field. They’re good. Let me tell you, they do good stuff.
One thing we didn’t ask you about from Saturday night was the coin toss. What happened there? Did Dennis say he wanted to defer and the ref didn’t hear him? Did he say he wanted the ball? It seemed like there was confusion.
Narduzzi: There was confusion. And I don’t know what it was. Usually, the head linesman - the same guy that threw the flag is the same guy that asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘We will defer; they know that.’ And then at halftime, he comes up and says, ‘Which end do you want to kick from?’ And I said, ‘What does it matter? I told you we wanted to defer and you didn’t help our guys; why am I telling you?’ It was just an error out there, kind of the way the day did, I guess. When it rains, it pours. That was a mistake there, just new young captains - and again, I blame myself, because I didn’t get it done. I should have had - which, again, I went through, ‘This is how it goes.’ Week One, they didn’t have a choice to make; Albany won the toss and deferred, so you’re taking the ball and we told them it didn’t matter which way, ‘Whatever you guys want to do as far as where we receive the ball.’ This week, all of a sudden we win the coin toss and they’re like, first time they had to make that decision. So, part of growing up.
I wasn’t even sure they knew what defer - I said, ‘Do you guys know what defer means?’ Just say you want to play offense or defense; that’s it. That’s all you have to say. They’ll figure it out from there. Just tell them you want to play defense. That’s my fault.
Your kids have talked about it being a one-week season and that there’s a 24-hour period after a loss or a win to celebrate or get over the loss; you knew you had a tough nonconference schedule, you also knew that you followed Penn State with Georgia Tech and opened ACC play. How do you go about recalibrating and getting these kids, ‘This isn’t just the next game but it’s the first ACC game, you know what the goal is.’ How do you go about that with your team?
Narduzzi: I think you don’t change much. It’s a routine. These kids are in a routine. Nothing changes. If we’d say, ‘It’s the first ACC week’ and all of a sudden we go out there and do something different and shock their system, I think that’s the wrong way to go about it. But it’s really a routine that our kids go through. They know the routine every week. They’re used to the routine and you don’t change what you do, routine-wise, during the week, I think.
Does that change the level of importance of a game, though? When you get to ACC play, these all count differently -
Narduzzi: They all count as one in that win column or one in that loss column. The opener’s important because it’s the opener. It’s the first game of the season. Penn State game’s big because it’s a rivalry, but it’s another game and neither one of those games are going to affect the ACC. This is a big game because - I mean, you can’t sit there and build any of these up more than the others. You can identify what it is: this is an opener, this is a rivalry game, this is an ACC game, the next one’s an ACC game, but I don’t think you say one is bigger than the other. But you can say it’s a rivalry game; you can’t ignore that. You can say it’s an opener and I don’t care who we’re playing, we have to go out and dominate this team. And this is the first ACC game. But our routine is going ot stay the same, I think. I think our kids would be like, ‘What is going on?’ We don’t need to do that.
I think if they stay in the same routine, they know we’re preparing the same for every game. We’re not preparing for this game any different - we’re not doing anything special for this game that we didn’t do last week or the week before. I think that’s how you kind of pull it together.
Is Kirk going to hold again? Or can you not give that one to Paul?
Narduzzi: I can’t give that to you.