Narduzzi: Saturday will 'be a heck of a game'

Chris Peak, Publisher
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Pat Narduzzi discussed two games against Syracuse - last year and this year - on the ACC teleconference Wednesday. Here's a full rundown of what he said.

NARDUZZI: It was a crazy game last year and we get that rematch this year again, that well-coached, much-improved football team from a year ago at Syracuse.

I think it's going to be a heck of a game. Like I said they are well-coached. Offensively I think they are 34th in the country in total offense and defensively, they are totally a different from a year ago and I think they are ranked 50th in the country in total defense.

They pose a challenge for us offensively and defensively. When we're on the field we have to make plays. What hurt us a year ago offensively, besides scoring 70-some points, was that we scored too quickly. So I told the offense this year we have to score slowly.

If we can still score 70 points slowly, that would be ideal. That's a joke, Mike. But it would help. It would help a whole lot.

You mentioned Monday, you got a lot of guys making plays for you out there, at least Saturday against Rice. Would you have ever expected Ra-Ra Lopes to be your leading receiver after five games here?
NARDUZZI: You know, I don't know if I would expect it. I would say maybe he might have the most catches; would he have the most yards. But he has been about as consistent a wideout as you can really have to be honest with you. He does all the little things right. We talk details and some guys doing things wrong; he doesn't -- he doesn't make many mistakes out there. He pays attention to the details, and Max and Ben both trust him throwing the ball because they know he'll also catch it.

That does not surprise me at all, no.

In terms of Max Browne's performance last week what growth did you see in his game? Maybe some of that was who you were playing but what is your evaluation of what he did better last week?
NARDUZZI: I don't care who you're playing; there's so many parity in college football. Give credit to Rice. Give credit to Max. He just looked like a different player. Nobody cares what you did last week. We all care about what you do for us this week. He'll face a different secondary, but where he put the ball, his accuracy, I don't care if he's playing against the New England Patriots. If you can put the ball where Jester can get it, you have a chance.

What you saw was really what we saw in camp, maybe a little bit more relaxed than what he was the first couple weeks that he was in there starting. You know, I don't know what it was. It's hard to pinpoint what it is; is it time? Does it just take time to get where you need to be? I don't know.

But he certainly was on fire, and like I said, it's hard to have four incomplete passes, and two of them are drops where he hits a receiver twice right in the chest or right in the hands and really should have had two incomplete passes. It's hard to hit 28 of 38 on air.

I asked Dino if he could give me a window into your mind during the game last year and he came up with the Hagler v. Hearns boxing max when they were going at it. I wonder from your perspective; that a game whereas a defensive coach you want to burn the tape, but as the head coach, you scored 76; you were happy? How does a game like that make you as a head coach feel when you start reviewing it?
NARDUZZI: Well, me and Dino have laughed about it in the off-season at ACC meetings, like, golly, what is the game going to. We were beat up a little bit the last game of the season, a year ago, whatever it was. We had some guys out and weren't as fresh, and then you were on the field for a long, long time, 35 minutes.

So you didn't have a chance to get a blow. As a head coach - if I was a defensive coordinator, I'd be really, really miserable. As a head coach, I was only a little bit miserable. I think as a head coach, you're always miserable, because it's always - someone's going to be weaker than the other on a game day. One day your offense looks great and your defense doesn't look good, so you're happy for one side and you're consoling the other side, and the next week it's something different.

Same as it's been this year. There's been different games, like our kids played their tails off against Georgia Tech and we didn't play very good offense. Different years you have different problems and strengths and weaknesses. That was a win; I think people forget, as miserable as it was, we won that game. I'm sure, you know, Syracuse and Coach Babers are sitting there going, yeah, it was miserable, we lost. Obviously like to be on our end more than their end.

I think they are playing for something a little bit more than we are this year and our kids have to come out with an attitude. It's kind of an old rivalry game in the Big East, and it's something that we have to go out and play well in Syracuse.

Other than having Jordan ready to play, what's the biggest difference in your defense from last year to this year?
NARDUZZI: Last year we didn't have him; we didn't have Phillipie Motley. Ryan Lewis also got hurt in the game, and you know, that's a lot of guys.

Nobody has that much depth, especially when you have to play DBs. You have to play with four of them. You can't play with three. If you lose some D-linemen, you can go from a four-down to a three-down, but it's hard not to play, especially against Syracuse who is going to play at least four wide outs, maybe five wideouts.

We practiced maybe a little bit of five wideout because they have got some - they have got a another receiver that wears a tailback number and we can possibly get some five wideouts. We're trying to prepare for that, as well. They did some funny things against North Carolina State.

So that's what we're focused on and I think our DBs are better. Our corners are playing pretty darned good. You know, Dane Jackson stepped up his game. Avonte Maddox was pretty good a year ago but he's even better. He's a better 2017 version of Avonte Maddox, and we are young at the safety spots.

When you go back to Oklahoma State where we didn't look very good versus all the RPOs, we now had Hamlin back there which we think can help, as well as Jordan Whitehead. So those are two different pieces that we didn't have a year ago, and we didn't have earlier in the year. Are they the difference makers? No. Syracuse has some good players, too.

There is going to be some slugging back and forth but I do like the depth we have back there. Just got to get them in position and let them make plays.

Can you talk about Quadree's contribution to the team and what makes him special?
NARDUZZI: You're talking Quadree Henderson, I'm assuming. Quadree is an all-purpose. He does a lot of different things. We still like to get him more active down the field, maybe this is his week, who knows. But Quadree has done a pretty good job in our jet game, although people are really taking it away lately but they have opened up some things in the passing game, whether it be to Jester or Aaron Mathews or Ra-Ra Lopes.

So Quadree has returned a punt for a touchdown. We haven't quite got our kickoff return. Obviously people are ready for that and working hard on stopping our kickoff returns, and then we've got a punt return. He's a guy with great wiggle and great speed, and he's got an ability to make people miss.

I know you mentioned the five wide receiver sets that you guys could be looking at. Two of those receivers, Ervin and Ishmael are leading the nation in receptions. When you look at the film, what impresses you about their performance, knowing the passing attack is certainly coming your way?
NARDUZZI: No doubt about it. They are two fantastic players. One is a big, physical, go get the ball, vertical type guy in Steve, and then Ervin is an athletic guy, you know, from Connecticut, and he's a guy that understands coverage, leverage. They give him a lot of freedom to run option route underneath and get open.

I think they break the huddle or I guess they don't huddle. They have some word they make - Ervin, just get open and he just kind of wiggles around and gets you open. He's electric. He's got great hands. He's got great speed. Those are two, obviously two of the top receivers in the country, and you know, by the numbers and by their ranking right now, we'll have our hands full with those two.

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