Narduzzi: 'We're fired up and ready to go'
Pat Narduzzi talked about Virginia's personnel groupings, Mark Whipple's influence and more on Thursday. Here's the full rundown of what he said.
Narduzzi: Week 11. Try to be 1-0 this week. The kids have had a great week of preparation. We have a lot to prepare for with what Virginia does in every phase. It’s a blessing that we don’t have these guys on a short week, because this would be a miserable week. They have 30 different personnel groupings. They’ve got receiver in 98, tight ends in 99, they’ve got numbers everywhere, and half the battle will be finding out who’s on the field on offense. Defensively, a lot of different coverages, a lot of different fronts, from three-down to four-down to exotic blitzes, blitzes you never saw before. So we’re going to see a lot of things that we don’t know and could not possibly practice. Special teams, they’ve got more fake punts in history - we’ve worked more fake punts, fake field goals, it’s just a lot of different stuff and our kids have handled it great. We have to have big eyes, as I’ve told the guys. We’ve just got to see everything. The tight ends will line up at No. 1 receiver where our corner is pressed on him - our guys have to know who plays what position. It’s not normal receiver numbers playing receiver; it’s not normal tight numbers. It’s all kinds of different stuff. Different sized guys, 225 pound receivers and tight ends in different numbers.
It’s just a lot and our kids have handled it well this week and we’re fired up and ready to go.
Their defense improved from the BYU game to the Notre Dame game; what did they do differently against Notre Dame?
Narduzzi: They lined up more four-down in that game, compared to what they had. Maybe that’s just based on who Notre Dame or maybe they changed in the open week, because they had an open week to kind of go, ‘Hey, who are we, what are we doing?’ So we’re not sure what it is, but we’ve dealt with both of them.
Their defense is playing much better.
Narduzzi: Yeah, so maybe they fixed some things in the open week. That’s what an open week’s for. Maybe that’s what happened.
Kenny talked to us about being able to adjust to things a defense hasn’t shown on tape before, and that’s something you guys have faced all season. In what’s now the biggest game of the season, how have you seen guys respond to that kind of approach?
Narduzzi: I think all year we’ve different stuff. I think our offense is different than the conventional spread offense of today. Like, you go into North Carolina week, we know exactly what formations we’re going to see. We know where they’re going to line up. We know everything. They line up in formations whip, ollie, out, wide, empty - you can name the top seven and that’s what they’re going to line up in.
We don’t know what they’re going to line up in and it’s the same thing defensively, so we’ve adjusted all year, especially on offense, to all the different stuff. Playing soft, playing deep, dropping eight; that’s something that our offense has done a great job at.
As a point of reference, you mentioned all the different personnel groupings - what’s typical? You said they use 30, what’s typical?
Narduzzi: Typical nowadays? In 2021? Two. Okay? It’s usually 11 personnel, which is one tight end and one back; that’s why it’s called 11. It’s known that it’s three receivers. But we see 11 - I would say this season we’ve seen 11 personnel I’d bet you 70% of the time. They line up in different personnels. But everybody is an 11 personnel team, which we are a lot. Our offense is 11, 12, we’ll get into some 22’s, we’ll get into some 20 personnel, but most of the time, you see, really, just two tight ends and one back and one tight end and one back is what the norm is.
This week - they’ve got sets where there’s no running back on the field and there’s three tight ends. Their second favorite personnel grouping is not having a running back on the field and having two or three or just one tight end in the game. They do all that. Trying to figure out who’s who is - you better know their jersey numbers. You don’t need to know their name or if they’re from Hawaii or what, but you got to know what position they play. It’s going to be a challenge from the box to figure it out.
Have you had super senior conversations with guys who are potentially going to come back? And how are you handling senior day?
Narduzzi: What we’re doing on senior day is, anybody who wants to say they’re a senior can come out and as a senior. I’m not going to get into that, but Kenny Pickett was a senior last year when we did senior day. Thank God he came back.
So, kids gotta make decisions, but they don’t want to make a decision saying - I think we had this conversation last year - they don’t want to make a decision saying, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to leave - oh can we go back and do that senior day again?’ So it’s better to have senior day and you get two of them.
We had to change the whole order last year. Chris LaSala just reminded me - last year Kenny’s ankle wasn’t good and he was supposed to be up as the senior to come out and we had to change the whole order because he went in to get his ankle fixed. I don’t think he wanted to come out for senior day. Maybe that was a telling story right there. He almost missed senior day. We had to make him last.
So are you encouraging guys to do this Saturday and make the decision once the season is over?
Narduzzi: Yeah. If they don’t want to do it, I’m not going to tell them - to me, it’s their decision. I’m not going to force them to do it. It’s their decision what they want to do. But what I’ve said is, take your time. With all those conversations, the big thing is, take your time and make a good decision like Kenny did. I think everybody can learn from Kenny’s decision. I think a year is better than getting drafted in the fifth, sixth, seventh, whatever some of them will be projected at. It’s hard to know what the projection is. Everybody’s got a different story. But just take your time and make a good decision. It’s a business decision for every one of those seniors. 23 of them, it’s a business decision. Obviously, not for 23 of them; some of them don’t have a choice. But there’s some that do have a choice.
I think you had mentioned the hope that the 85-man scholarship with the super seniors next season - you would get that relief again. Any updates on that at all?
Narduzzi: No. Not happening.
What are your thoughts on that?
Narduzzi: It’s bad. The NCAA comes out and says, ‘This is what it’s going to be’ and they assume that, they gave everybody an extra year. But college football programs across the country are not giving everybody an extra year, so it’s a problem. There’s a true math problem here that isn’t going to look good in the end. So we’ll find out in February, maybe in December, but it’s not a good math problem.
Coach Whipple was nominated for the Broyles Award. When people think of the guy who wins that award, that’s sort of like an up-and-coming person, someone that ends up on a lot of head coach watch lists and things like that. He’s sort of a different mold for that award; what do you feel like has made him be able to stay so successful and so relevant at that position for so long?
Narduzzi: Coach Whip is a fantastic football coach and I nominate him; that’s kind of how it gets done. He’s well-deserving - the stats, the numbers he’s put up, the points, the whole deal. He’s just an outstanding football coach. He never gets old.
You talk up-and-coming - I don’t think the Broyles Award is meant for an up-and-coming coach. I don’t think that’s how Frank wanted it to be done. I had the pleasure of having breakfast with him. It’s just someone that’s had a lot of success doing it the right way. You watch how our offense is productive - Coach Whipple’s first game was against Virginia back in 2019, and this will be the last home game of 2021, so we’ll see how far we’ve come offensively from that year to this year.
It takes time to develop and get your guys to know what to do. It’s not just Kenny Picket. It’s the receivers running the right routes and being in the right spots, and if the receivers aren’t in the right spots, you see what happens. It’s not a good thing.
Did you know him before you hired him?
Narduzzi: Coach Whipple?
Had you met him or did you know him mostly by reputation?
Narduzzi: I knew Coach Whip. I coached against him for many years. When you coach against somebody, you’re like, ‘That guy’s pretty good.’ Like, Paul Chryst in the Big Ten was like, the guy. I loved the challenge and the chess match going against Paul Chryst, and Mark Whipple was the same type of guy - a pain in the butt to defend. The first time we defended him, I was the D-line coach, so I didn’t have much - the passing game just blew us up. I’m looking back as the D-line coach like, what are you guys doing back there? What are we coaching? It was a mess. But he causes problems in whatever he’s done.
So I’ve known him for a long time and had respect across the sideline, so I’ve known. I’ve known how he’s developed quarterbacks; not just the Kenny Pickett’s but even his last year at UMass, he had three quarterbacks, two quarterbacks get hurt - if you go back and look at his last year at UMass and see what the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and see what he did with those guys, he’s always done that. He’s developed quarterbacks and made them better, and Kenny’s had a great time with him and so did Big Ben and plenty more throughout his career. So he’s deserving of that award.
When you were talking about the defense last week, you talked about how a lot of people were overlooking the defense going into the game and Phil Campbell said that fired them up last week. Now you’re facing a quarterback who has thrown for even more yards than Kenny this year -
Narduzzi: So I need to go back in that meeting again? Phil said it fired him up? Then I’ll go back and do it again.
After the game, he said that you saying that fired them up a little bit last week.
Narduzzi: It’s true, and I truly believe this: as explosive as our offense is - I’ve never tried get in front of the defense and take the thunder from Batesy because he does a great job - but I felt like it was a time I needed to…
You know, we knew that maybe if we didn’t score as many points - that’s why they call it a team. You can’t always count on outscoring someone; you’ve got to stop them on defense, and the defense just keeps getting better. It’s like, hey guys, you want to win, you’ve got to play your best football. That’s what happens as the season goes on. It can’t just be one side of the ball doing it all. There’s going to be times where we need offense to score more points, and there’s going to be times when the defense shuts them down and makes something happen. We were able to do that last week.
This is a senior class that has different graduation years from high school in it, but what impact do you think overall that this group has made on your program?
Narduzzi: They’ve been with us for a long time. You can call them ‘my guys,’ even though the first year were all my guys; I’ve always had that attitude that they’re all my guys. And this senior class has been special, and it will get more special each game. It can be historic what they’ve done and stuck together. I think the biggest thing about this senior class is, they’re selfless. All of them. There’s more players on our football team, in our locker room, than we’ve ever had before, and they’re selfless. It’s something we talk about a ton. We talked about the ‘we, we’ not the ‘me, me’ stuff, and ‘we not me’ and they’ve done a great job leading.
We have a leadership council meeting in here and talk with the seniors and they’ve been just like - I’ve sat in these leadership meetings, from the younger guys to the older guys, and it’s been a point where, over the years, it’s ‘Hey, what do you guys need? What’s going on?’ And you hear all kinds of crazy stuff, like, ‘Okay, on a Thursday before the game, we’re talking about that.’ This group has been so mature, it’s been the best leadership group I’ve had because it’s about football. Not one time did they come in and say, ‘Coach, we want to wear these uniforms.’ A lot of times, it’s about - they think they’re the designer for the weekend. Which is great. I want you to pick uniforms.
But it ain’t about that. These guys are all about football and winning football games, and that’s what I love about them.
Does that build upon itself? When you have a class like that, do you feel like it gets passed down?
Narduzzi: You know what? When you see a class like that, it makes me wonder - because I’ve seen the other classes come through and I go, okay, I see what it’s all about. So now the great thing is, I think we’ve got five seniors in that group, so next year, those five are gone, hopefully there will be some new guys coming in and all of a sudden the guys that were in here with this senior class, with Kenny and Deslin and Cal and Cam Bright will know how it was done, and when they hear something crazy talked about in there, they’ll kind of go, ‘Wait a second, that’s not what this is for.’
So I think they will learn. And that’s part of development. I’ve learned because, I have Chris LaSala sit in there with me and I’m like, ‘Chris this is different.’ Even for the first couple, I’m like, ‘These guys are different. It’s not about other stuff.’ It’s a tribute to what they care about. They care about winning football games. What do we need to do to win that?
What can you tell us about Matt Canada against Renaldo Hill on Sunday?
Narduzzi: I have no idea. I know Matt’s a heck of a coach, Renaldo’s a heck of a coach. I never thought they were - coordinator against coordinator, huh? It’s going to be a heck of a football game and I love Renaldo, but I’m picking the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What does it mean to be in position where you’ve been here long enough to have guys that were coaches under you that are now having success at the next level?
Narduzzi: It’s awesome. It’s awesome to see what Matt’s done and what Renaldo’s done. Through my career, there’s been some great coaches go to the next level and it’s awesome. You’ve got Chris Beatty with the Chargers as well coming back and Maurice Ffrench is coming back to town, too. I know he was activated and he texted me, he had a tackle on the kickoff. So we text back and forth and I’m fired up for him. He knows what Heinz Field is all about, so does Renaldo and so does Chris Beatty.
Do they play here or out there?
It’s out there.
Narduzzi: Sorry. I have no idea. I know that field would be a mess fi they did.
What has Eric Kasperowicz brought to your staff this season?
Narduzzi: I wish I could tell you. I know he’s with us all the time. I know he’s teaching. But Eric’s been awesome. So has Kraig Urbik. Both of those guys have been - I see Kraig a little bit more because Eric is coaching, but they’ve been both awesome. I know Eric sits in there with them, halftime adjustments and all of that, and I’m with the defense so I don’t ever hear what’s going on. But we haven’t kicked him out; put it that way. So he’s done an unbelievable job and the kids really enjoy him. Kenny really enjoys Eric as well. He gives him good advice and tips during the week.