MORE HEADLINES - Two-deep update: DiNucci moves to the top | 10 thoughts from the weekend: The QB, the defense and more | What did we learn in Pitt's loss at Syracuse? | What are the five big questions facing Pitt this week? | PODCAST: The road home from Syracuse | Pickett's play adds new layer of complication to Pitt's QB situation | Post-game video: Jordan Whitehead
Pat Narduzzi held his weekly press conference Monday and discussed the quarterbacks, the run game and more. Here's a full rundown of what he said.
NARDUZZI: Another tough one for our guys. Three-point loss up in Syracuse, left a lot of plays out there, and really went through the facts last night with our guys really of what we did and really what we didn't do to win that football game. But they're scoring touchdowns, we're kicking field goals, three of them. I tried to do some math with them last night, you turn one of those field goals when you get down in the red zone into a touchdown, what do we win by? It's like, you win. And they got the point total correct, too. Smart guys at Pitt.
But there's a lot of little things that we just don't do out on the field to make those plays, and you can't -- against anybody in the ACC, and Syracuse continues to get better. They're a good football team. It was a great game for sure for the fans to watch. Much better than last year, I might add, as far as just watching a game and being competitive and more of a defensive game I guess than an offensive game. Lots of three-and-outs in the first half for both defenses.
But you know, there's a lot of things that we need to do, offensively, defensively, to get a lot better. For example, I mean, just -- they made some great catches. They got a couple of phenomenal catches, and we got opportunities to make the same ones, and we don't make them. What's the problem there? We've just got to make plays, and it's really what it comes down to when you have opportunities; you have to make them. You've got to attack the ball and high point it, and the same thing on defense. I think we started off with a bang, and then 98 plays later we're a little tired. Jordan Whitehead probably gave him too many reps for any of you guys who want to start them both ways. When you take 80 snaps on defense and eight or nine on offense and special teams, as well, you're the person to protect on the punt team, he's got too many and you don't see it because he keeps going, and he's never saying, ‘Coach, I need a blow.’ He just keeps going. But when you start missing tackles, then it affects everybody. Those are some of the things that we've got to make sure we don't continue to do. That's on coaches and players.
But we play a fantastic North Carolina State team, a team that as a voting member of the USA Today, I've been voting for them since week one. I can show you my results from week one, but I've voted for them all along because I've watched what they've done during the summer on tape. They're a physical football team, they're a veteran football team. They've got, I think, 18 returning starters, eight on defense and 10 on offense. Their entire line is back from a year ago. And any time you have that consistency and guys that have played around -- Dave, Coach Doeren, is going into his, I think, fifth season here, and the program is very, very stable at this point, and that's what happens when you give a coach -- I knew Dave back when he was at Northern Illinois. When you give a guy that much time to do his deal, and my hats go off to those folks there for hanging in, and they've got a good football team, from skill all the way to the line, on both sides of the ball.
It starts up front with those guys. Chubb, Street, Hill, Jones across the front, they've got one of the best D-lines you'll see in the country. I saw that last year. I saw that they were good.
What's the situation at quarterback for you guys going into this week?
NARDUZZI: Keep practicing. Our team is continuing to grow in a lot of different spots, and it will have to go faster there. I feel bad for Max. We're still evaluating his body, so that's still in evaluation, but Ben DiNucci is the guy. I've had a meeting with Ben this morning about preparation and putting as much into it as he possibly can, and Ben has got a ton of ability. We've talked about that, and he needs to relax in the pocket and identify who he's supposed to read and throw the ball and manage the run game properly so everything clicks. We've got faith in Ben, and Kenny Pickett will be his backup. I don't know if I mentioned this at staff meeting or to our team or to my wife, we've got a lot of confidence in Kenny Pickett, as well. That's why I had no -- when Max went down, you can't hesitate, you've got to know what your next move is, and Thomas MacVittie, again, is another exceptional athlete, but Kenny Pickett is just a little bit further ahead of him mentally. Thomas played receiver for a long time in high school and doesn't have a lot of reps there, but is a talented kid. So we still have faith in him, as well.
But Kenny is probably as mentally prepared as any freshman quarterback in the country, I think. He's way ahead of where DiNucci was when he was a freshman mentally, so he's a guy that we had confidence in from the beginning. He pays attention to details, as well. So he'll be our backup, and we'll progress that way.
The decision -- is there a scenario where he could even have a package or two?
NARDUZZI: Who's that?
NARDUZZI: Well, I have a lot of packages, like the entire package. He's smart enough to know the entire package.
Are you going to try to get him playing time? To burn him for one snap, you would need something miraculous to happen no matter how strong kids are on this team. I assume there's a long game you're trying to play.
NARDUZZI: It's a long game, it's a developmental game, and it's a guy that's ready. We'd like to play him, put it that way. We don't want to play him for one play and then burn a redshirt. But I've seen guys think redshirts are burned, and to me -- when you talk redshirting, it's about when your opportunity arises, and there's nobody that turns that down. There was a receiver a long time ago at the University of Rhode Island who had to play in the last game of the season against Hofstra I believe it was. He hadn't played all year, we had the Delaware game the week before, had a bunch of guys get hurt, kid's name was Ricketts, I believe, and burned his redshirt year that year, played one game, last game of the season, caught seven balls. Then next year, those other receivers that got hurt in that game weren't hurt, okay, and he ended up redshirting the second year, okay. Didn't play a down. That's what it was.
So you never know. When your time is called, you've got to play. Kenny is a team guy. I've talked to his dad. He understands the process. He understands -- he's understood that sitting in that room. You're one snap away from being a backup, and that's at every position, that happens. Quarterback is not a position you're trying to rotate and get guys series. We've got to get Ben in the rotation and -- excuse me, get Ben in the flow of the game and let him go.
When you talked to Ben this morning in that meeting, do you tell him to approach this week any differently? He says he's been approaching every week the same, but obviously it's not the same when Max is definitely not going to play.
NARDUZZI: Yeah, but told him to take it better than he has. I think you can always get better. I think everybody can get better. I can spend more time in the office. I can spend the night again. I mean, everybody can give you more, okay, and I just told him, hey, listen, we need more. What you've done so far is okay, but you need more. It's the same thing for everybody. Everybody needs to give more. When someone goes down, it's the next man up, and he's got more, okay. I might take his phone away from him. Does he tweet, Jerry?
He has a Twitter account, but not much.
NARDUZZI: Not much? That's good. Whatever I've got to do, I'll take something away from him. Maybe I'll take his video games.
Have you had a chance to look back at the play that Max got hurt on and see what happened there?
NARDUZZI: Yeah. It was a real wide end, coming off the field side, and Matt Flanagan is coming across the line of scrimmage or coming across the formation to block him, and Qadree was kind of -- they brought a blitz at the same time from the field. A backer was coming, and if it was just a D-end they both would have blocked him, but Qadree kind of got just a little bit in Flanagan's way, and they couldn't pick him off the edge. I don't know if I'd say nice job by them. They did it by accident, but just didn't -- Flanagan couldn't get over tight enough, unfortunately.
Over the last -- the previous two years, you haven't really had to discipline that many people, but now it's six guys in the past five months. When something like that happens, are you fearful that the message isn't getting across to some guys?
NARDUZZI: Everybody is different. You know, the message is getting communicated, I can tell you that. Like I said in the past, we will be a disciplined football team. We're going to do little things right, from tucking our shirts in on trips -- we're going to do the little things right. I think, again, as soon as you let some of those things go, and obviously this was not a tucking your shirt in problem, but those are how small the details are that we're working on and developing, and I think when you're a young football team and you don't have a lot of seniors sitting in that front row that have command of the room like we did a year ago, that there's always going to be those issues, and it's the age these kids are growing up in nowadays. You look around at some of the bigger things happening in the world, and they just trickle down into smaller things here. I mean, you look at Las Vegas, who would have ever thought that would happen 15 years ago? There's little things that our kids are growing up in the world that we didn't have to, and we've just got to stay on the little things, details, and again, if you aren't detailed off the field, you won't be detailed on the field, and that's the emphasis we're trying to make.
Do you address things with the team when this kind of stuff happens?
NARDUZZI: Yeah, no question about it. It gets addressed really quickly.
When you see Dave Doeren's defense, what's stood out to you about things they did schematically?
NARDUZZI: Well, Dave Huxtable is the defensive coordinator. I think you guys have some history with him. But he's very detailed. Got a great plan, just playing sound football. I mean, they're not complicated when you look at them, but they have a system, and they run the system, and they fit their players into the system, and they've got some cats up front that are really good that make everybody else around them really good.
How much better does your offensive line have to play in this game compared to what they've been doing the last couple of weeks?
NARDUZZI: They've got to play like they did against Penn State. They've got to be able to rush the football. So we've done that in the past, and they've got to play good. But quarterback has got to play good. Running backs got to play better. Receivers got to make blocks and catch the ball. It's 11 guys, it ain't just the offensive line. You know, I think that's evident when you watch Jordan Whitehead run. I mean, I think if you interviewed an offensive lineman, hey, are you blocking any different when Jordan Whitehead is in there, and they'd probably tell you no. I don't think they get in the huddle and say, ‘Oh, number 9 is in here, let's block for this guy today.’ There's some blocking going on. It can be better always, but our run game has got to be better, too.
Are you hoping to settle on five guys on the O-line and in that Syracuse game it didn't happen?
NARDUZZI: No. Again, we're rotating guys around. Still trying to find out who they are and giving them opportunities. The only way you get better is to have opportunities to play. You know, if there was five beasts up there, then we'd keep the five beasts and you can tell the guys that haven't been out of the two deep or been out of the starting lineup, so we're looking for the five consistent guys, and if it's all average, then keep them fresh and give them an opportunity to go play.
How close do you feel like you guys are to finding success?
NARDUZZI: Well, when we rush for 300 yards this weekend, if we rush for 300 yards, I think we've found -- how close are we? We're probably not going to know until next spring, you know. Think about it. It is what it is right now. I mean, we're not going to go off the free agent wire and see if we can pick some guys up. We've just got to keep coaching them.
The great thing about our kids is they care. They've got a great care factor. They want to get better. They sit in here with their eyes up, and they want to get better. That's the important thing, and they're having opportunities to play and prove that they are the guy, whether it's Brandon Hodges and Jaryd Jones-Smith and Mike Herndon, Dintino, they are all having opportunities to go out there and put their pads on somebody.
Any combination that's standing out to you, especially on the right side?
NARDUZZI: I don't know. Maybe.
When you look at NC State, do they sort of -- what Dave has done there, they've taken that step from not great to first year to where they are now, is that a model for a program like you guys and the way that they're playing, is that a model that you kind of want to follow?
NARDUZZI: I mean, I think anybody in the country wants to. Consistency and getting your guys in place, and every place is different. Every situation is a little bit different that you walk into. I think here we walked into a pretty good situation with some pretty good players. Paul did a good job recruiting, but they were all older guys that had played a lot of football. I think time is to tell there. I think some people lose patience. They have it down there, and Dave has run his course. He believed in what he's doing, and he's done a nice job. They've got a great pool of kids around their area, and obviously it comes down to recruiting and getting the right players in that program. They've done a great job.
That nickel defense -- Is that encouraging for you as a coach that you can deploy that in the future when you see these four-, five-wide receiver teams?
NARDUZZI: The what defense you said?
Using five defensive backs.
NARDUZZI: It's encouraging, but we knew we've had that, use it when you need to or you feel like you have to or the run game is not what it is. I mean, they didn't really start running the ball until the second half. If they just want to throw it every down, then you kind of build it off of that, and we had base in there, as well, so you just kind of do what they're doing.
When you went one running back down this Saturday, I thought maybe Davis would play but he only played one carry.
NARDUZZI: He had one carry, and you want him in there. He has one carry, and he's supposed to break it outside, he cuts it back inside. He's still a young guy that I want to get him more carries, and I told him before the game we want to get you more carries and then -- I'm not subbing guys in. I'm not the sub coach on offense, but they've got to go with who they feel understands what they're doing. They know what the game plan is offensively. But we'd like to get him more carries. I want to see the guy go and see if he can be a difference maker for us. But I wish he'd get more reps. I really do.
Is practice going to be any different for Jordan Whitehead team wise?
NARDUZZI: Probably not, no. He's a smart guy, plays both ways every week.
Were there plays that he was in that you guys didn't give it to him Saturday?
NARDUZZI: I think one. No, I think we gave it to him every time, and they probably knew that, too.
How do you find that balance for Jordan on offense and defense?
NARDUZZI: You know, I'm over balance right now. You don't want to use him like you were using him. You don't want to wear him out. I don't want to wear the kid out. He's a great kid that wants to go. He comes off yesterday all smiles, and I said, hey, just keep going. We'll do what we need to do. But he's a super kid that is all in.
You're halfway through now. If you look at it, you guys got a streak of having reached a postseason game nine years. Do you try to block out big-picture stuff when you've got the tough schedule the rest of the way?
NARDUZZI: One at a time. One at a time. If we start looking ahead, we're going to be in big trouble. We're not smart enough. We're not mature enough to ever look ahead. We've got to focus on North Carolina State. We've got a great football team coming in homecoming weekend, and it'll be a great challenge for us this football team. Top-20 team coming into Heinz Field.
Do you have to sort of revisit or look at the amount of jet sweeps and shovel passes or the way you use them?
NARDUZZI: Yeah, again, with the way they're playing, we should have more effect inside. It's all based on how they're structured defensively, and we're not getting it out to Quadree, and even when he does get out there, we're getting one-arm tackled and put on the ground, so we've got to make something happen when we do get the ball in our hands, and that loosens some other things up. But yeah, we look at that every week.
When you look back at the film of the run game from the past few games --
NARDUZZI: It looked pretty good when No. 9 was in there, didn't it? Didn't struggle when No. 9 was in there, did it?
When you look back at the film, I guess what do you see? Is it kind of more on the backs? Is it the line not getting opportunities?
NARDUZZI: I think it's a little bit -- it's a great question, and I think I answer it every week. It's a little of everything. You know, it's a little bit of the backs. Sometimes it's a quarterback making the right check, depending on the game and who made that call. Max has been really good at that. And then sometimes it's the offensive line. It only takes one. When you put them all in a box and you're in a two-tight end set and one guy misses a block, it can look like an ugly play, but four other guys really blocked well, but if you miss one block, then it all goes downhill, and it doesn't matter. It makes them all look bad, and that's why you count on that guy next to you, whether it's a center or guard or tackle that's next to you to do his job and focus on that, keep your head up and use your hands and don't block with your flippers and your arms, and that's what it comes down to.
But if you miss one block, it could be fatal. That's been the problem. So it's not one thing you can point at, just the running backs, and it's not just the offensive line, it's a combination, and that's why they call it a team game. If we played football with one guy out there, it was one-on-one, it would be pretty easy to say who didn't get it done. But one play this guy is good, one play it's not.
Is Therran Coleman sort of in the lead for that third cornerback spot now after how much he played Saturday?
NARDUZZI: You know, he is. His stock has risen. I told him it was going to be important, him getting an opportunity. He won that position; it wasn't a, ‘Here you go, Therran, go be the guy.’ He won it in a competition like we do every week. We try to compete -- we're going to compete at quarterback this week. Kenny is going to compete. He's going to try to look better. We're going to compete at every position like we do every week and find out who's going. But Therran competed and won that spot and did a nice job at it.
He was physical, he tackled well when he was out there. It was your fear; I yelled at him on Thursday because he did a couple of those whiz tackles where he pretended like he tackled the guy but he didn't. I was like, ‘Dude, you're too young to do that. Don't be doing that on Thursday practice. Thud him up.’ And that's your fear, the guy goes out there and doesn't thud it up. But Therran did a nice job. It was good.
We've still got our two starting corners, so it's hard, and we'll do some nickel this weekend, as well, so he'll have opportunities.
What does NC State do offensively?
NARDUZZI: They are a big, big zone team. Their offensive line is big, physical. You guys are asking real football questions. I like it. Thanks, guys. They're a big offensive line physically. They run a lot of outside zone. They've got some RPOs involved, as well. Finley is a very smart quarterback. I don't think he's thrown a pick this year. He manages the game well. He's a transfer from Boise. He does a great job of just managing the game. He doesn't try to do too much. He's obviously very intelligent. I don't know what his GPA is, but based on watching him and what he does, how he manages the game, you can tell he's probably a 4.0 guy that pays attention to details. He's probably in the film room right now trying to dissect our defense and figure out what he can do and how he can do it and what tells him this, what tells him that. That's what he does, and you can see it on tape.
The challenge of Samuels, they use him a bunch of different ways.
NARDUZZI: He's all over the place. He's their H-wide back that will play fullback, play wide receiver, throw him bubbles. He'll get 12 carries a game probably. He's a guy that they utilize. He's a good football player.
What can you say about Kessman and his improvement since the beginning of the year?
: He actually hasn't gotten any better. He's been the same guy. The uprights just move every once in a while and they go through. I almost called the punt team out for that 56-yarder when I saw their kick returner go back there. I'm like, ‘Oh, my gosh, our O-line better cover here.’ When you've got a punt returner, kick returner back there that's a 100-meter guy standing at the end line and you're kicking -- you line up for a 56-yard field goal and then you've got to go -- it's not like your punt team is out there or your kickoff team. It's our field goal team. You've got a lot of beef out there that you really don't even have to block them to make them miss. So it was a little scary. I had the punt team called up just in case. I changed my mind at the last second. Glad I didn't. But that thing would have been good from 56 and a half yards probably, and I think, gol-ly.
O’Neill could run down one of those guys maybe.
: One guy. That feels pretty wide.
You mentioned Pickett’s mental acumen. Can you give an example of maybe some things you've taken up in the film room?
: He's just a detailed guy. He's a very detailed student of the game is what he is. He's obviously been well-coached in high school. I think it starts there. You don't -- you don't develop overnight at quarterback, and he's developed while he's here and Coach Watson enjoys him in the meeting room because he can answer a lot of questions. He understands the game.