Narduzzi: 'Our passing game will be a threat'

Chris Peak, Publisher
Panther-lair

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Pat Narduzzi took questions about the national anthem, the passing game and more on the ACC teleconference this week. Here's a full rundown of what he said.

PAT NARDUZZI: Obviously very impressed by Ryan Winslow's performance not only in the classroom but on the field this year. He's done a tremendous job. I'm really happy for him and his family. He's worked hard for that honor, and we hope he continues with that moving forward.

We're on to the Rice game. Obviously we had a tough one last week down in Atlanta against a very, very well-coached and tough football team in Georgia Tech. We'll continue a work in progress here in Pittsburgh and we'll keep getting better every week.

I love the attitude of our practices the last two days. We've gone a little bit more live just to get the guys more work and we're looking forward to seeing progress here on Saturday against a very good Rice football team.

We were just on here talking about Florida State, tough schedule for them being 0-2. And I don't know if anybody's had a tougher three-game slate than you guys have. When you go through games like that where you've struggled a little bit, how do you prevent sort of a snowball effect and let particularly those younger guys know that the gauntlet we just went through would have been tough on anybody, it's not the end of the season, we still have a lot to accomplish?
NARDUZZI: Great question. And obviously some tough teams, but we still didn't play as good as we need to play. We didn't play up to our expectations in any of those things, and, again, we're a young football team so I understand that as well.

But I think our kids understand that. We're pretty honest with them every week on what happens, what we see, where the mistakes are made, whether it's a coaching mistake or player mistake. I think if you're honest with the kids, they'll respond. But that's our coaches' job to keep them together and understand every week it's a new game, focus on this game and what we want to achieve goal-wise. It happens every week. We're going to face another good Rice team.

When you play in the ACC there is not an easy week. Some people thought it would be easier going into Georgia Tech because we didn't have Oklahoma State and Penn State. I told them it's no easier. Georgia Tech is a good football team. We go into Syracuse next week almost beating LSU the week before, that's a much-improved football team. Dino Babers is doing a great job. So every week it's a grind. We need to keep our heads up and push forward.

It's my understanding that you guys are one of the rare teams in the ACC that does the anthem on the field for your home games. I wonder if you expect any players to participate in the police brutality protest this week?
NARDUZZI: We were just talking about you guys at Syracuse. You guys are doing a great job up there.

Yeah, we do come out for the National Anthem. I don't anticipate it. Trump hasn't said anything about college football yet, I guess. But our guys have been really good. Hopefully they're focused. We try to do a nice job of educating our guys on what this is all about, what are we really talking about in the situation. The communication between the players and the coaches and the administration we hope is what is well done.

Again, the kids have freedom to do what they want. In no way will we say we're not going out for the National Anthem because I'm afraid of what our guys will do or say. That's who we are. I'm proud of our guys. I respect their thoughts, their feelings. But we also want to educate them on when is the right place, right time, really, what are you doing. And if you've got great answers for why you're doing something, then have at it and we respect that.

Have you guys discussed it this year? Did you discuss it last year when Colin first took the knee? When have you discussed it with them?
NARDUZZI: Right. We discussed it last year as it started to heat up. My favorite newspaper is the USA Today. I usually go just read the front page and what's happening with North Korea with the Rocket Man and all those things. Just reading all the stuff that's going on now. Now I open up USA today and I'm seeing NFL football and American flags. I don't even want to open up the newspaper or my app, I guess I should say. It's unfortunate. We're kind of shielded from it.

We'll probably believe before the weekend that everybody's still in the same spot and make sure everybody's making good decisions.

Wondering what kind of match-up problems 44 for Rice presents, and who, I guess, has the biggest responsibility for you guys to keep him away from the quarterback?
NARDUZZI: Yeah, they're I think 10th in the country, have 13 sacks. We have not done a great job protecting our quarterback. Womack, No. 44, is a 6'2", 250-pound guy that has a great motor. If you have 11 guys playing with that guy's motor. Emmanuel Ellerbee, their weakside linebacker, No. 58. But he creates a problem because he's a high-motor guy. I could see guys like him in the past be terrors. I can see that guy playing in the NFL. He's just got one of those knacks of getting to the quarterback.

Will he be the most talented guy that we face this year? I don't know. We'll find out Saturday for sure. But he poses problems. They do a lot of blitzing with him on third down. They'll bring him in the middle and do all kinds of twist games. So we have some things for him. Our guys certainly know who 44 is. He's been a big focus this week in our practice. We will be locked into where he is all the time and what we can do to put a hat on him.

On the other side of the ball with an offensive coordinator who worked under Matt Canada, and a quarterback's coach who was here with you guys last year, are they going to look similar to what you guys do offensively?
NARDUZZI: Yeah, they are. I'm glad you said that. I hadn't mentioned it on Monday because I didn't know if it needed to be mentioned and I thought you guys knew. Obviously Wesley is a great young coach and has made a major impression on what they do there. They're very similar to what we do. They're a little bit more exotic as far as some of the things they do.

They'll run obviously good jet sweeps. At times when we will kind of -- we call it two tight ends, they'll even go with an offensive tackle and two tight ends. They bring up half their line of scrimmage that way. So there are things they do different from what we do that we'll have to deal with.

I'm also good friends with their offensive coordinator Billy Lynch. His dad was Bill Lynch the head coach at Indiana for a while, a long time head coach at Ball State. Has a big coaching background. I think he has two sons in college football. Bill Lynch is a good friend of mine.

He was a GA for me at Miami of Ohio back in 2003 and has remained a good friend of mine as well. As a matter of fact, I talked to Billy about getting Wes that job there, so that's how he kind of got the job there with Coach Bailiff and Billy Lynch.

Just wanted to ask you about your young quarterback. How was your assessment --
NARDUZZI: Which one (laughing) ?

Ben, how has your evaluation of Ben evolved as the month's gone on here?
NARDUZZI: Ben has done a nice job for us. I say nice, obviously he's got stuff to improve on just like Max does. Both of them do some really nice things, but it's consistency. There are a lot of things going on the field, and I think people think it's easy. We've got to give both those quarterbacks, whoever plays, more help. From the offensive line, to the receivers, to the running back corps, it's not just the quarterback.

So I've been happy with some of the things they've done and unhappy with some of the things they've done. But I'm also unhappy with the guys that are surrounding them. When you have two new quarterbacks that one is taking his first college start last week, and one who transferred in here and learning a new offense and being acquainted with new players around him and in a system and coaches, the guys around them that have been in the system, our seniors got to play better football.

They've got to make plays for the quarterback. We've got to protect the quarterback. We've got to be able to run the ball. We did not run the ball last week against a firm Georgia Tech football team. They loaded the box up to stop the run because they really weren't afraid of our passing game.

So this week, our passing game will be a threat and we'll try to open things up.

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