Pitt (5-3, 2-2 ACC) heads to Miami (4-4, 1-3) this weekend for an important game at Hard Rock Stadium.
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m.
Coach Pat Narduzzi spoke on today's ACC Coaches call. Here is is opening statement, followed by a Q&A:
"Obviously we have a great opponent this weekend in Miami, and if you look at the record at 4-4, you really don't get to see the tale of really what they are. Mark Richt does a heck of a job. He's a super football coach. He's got a great staff, and they are well-coached when you watch them.
"If you look at the numbers and look who they've lost to, a great Florida State, a great North Carolina team, a very, very good football team in Virginia Tech, and then Notre Dame who we know has pounded year in and year out. We'll have our work cut out for us when we head down to Miami for Saturday's game, and they've got plenty of speed and athleticism. I think they keep it simple so their players can go play. They're aggressive on defense, and aggressive -- we expect to get a lot of shots deep on our defense, and we've been working on that all week.
"I'll open it up for questions.”
Q.How would you describe Brian O'Neill's emergence as a receiving threat for your team?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, Brian is a great kid. He's very athletic, as you can see. He can run. He could probably still be at tight end if we didn't have a need a year ago, and he's been -- forget what he does carrying the ball or catching the ball out of the backfield, but he's done a great job blocking people, too.
If you look at maybe we've given up four or five sacks on the year, he's done a tremendous job of not only making plays in our run game and pass game, I guess, but he's protected our quarterback, and that's what he does. He's an offensive lineman, and Coach Canada has done a great job of featuring a couple plays that he can do athletically.
Q.I think I read somewhere that he's only given up one sack this season; is that accurate?
PAT NARDUZZI: No, I would say it's probably accurate because I think we've only given up -- I'm not sure, I want to say maybe five sacks on the year, and two of them we kind of gave up on purpose. We didn't want to run out of bounds, otherwise we'd probably stop the clock in kind of a two-minute situation where we were trying to eat the clock up.
I think we've only given up five on the year, and a couple Nathan Peterman has taken on his own just being a smart football player.
Q.Are you worried that he might not be such a secret weapon for you anymore when you get down to the goal line?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know what, if they're looking at an offensive tackle to carry the ball, then they've got problems. But there's so many guys out there that can threaten you with all these great wideouts that we have in the ACC and the tailbacks. I know we're worried about Mark Walton and Yearby in the backfield, Stacy Coley and Ahmmon Richards, those are the guys we're locked into as well as their tight ends. If I've got to worry about Darling or St. Louis, Miami's two offensive tackles, then we will have our eyes probably in the wrong place.
Q.Coming off the Virginia Tech loss, any certain aspects on defense that you're really honing in on for growth heading into this week's game?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, we've got a few injuries in the secondary and some that we're trying to mend up and patch up, but like I said, obviously you're probably talking about the passing game in a roundabout way.
But we've obviously got to make some plays with the ball. I give Virginia Tech a lot of credit for some of the back shoulder fades they threw. We didn't see any on tape going into the game, and obviously that was their plan of not trying to really -- they're running fades, but they're really throwing it to the back shoulder, kind of pushing off and making a great play, which are probably the hardest ones to defend in press coverage, so we've worked on that this week, and I just wish we would have worked at it a week earlier.
Q.Was last year's Pitt defense better than this year's Pitt defense in any certain area?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, it's hard. I don't compare year to year because they're different teams. They're different -- you've got Lafayette Pitts, one of our corners, obviously is with the Dolphins now, so obviously you lose him in the secondary. But better -- the question is are some of the offenses better. You're defending different offenses. I know Virginia Tech's offense is better than it was last year, so is it the defense or is it the offense.
And I think the ACC is very explosive, been very impressed not only with the quarterback play that we get in this league but also the skill that you have to defend compared to what maybe you see in the Big Ten.
Q. I missed the first part of you talking a little bit about Danny's score last week. Can you walk me through installing that play in your arsenal?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, we really didn't talk about -- you said selling that play?
Q. Installing it.
PAT NARDUZZI: Oh, installing it. You know, like I said, Coach Canada does a great job with it. He's a very creative mind. The one thing you're looking for is put the ball in the athlete's hands, and Brian O'Neill is a former tight end that is built like a tackle but runs like a tight end. You can see the way he runs that he's got a future after he plays here at the University of Pittsburgh.
It's about we do a lot of jet sweeps, we do a lot of reverses and people are worried about all our jet sweeps going out one way, and it's really just more eye candy that people have to worry about. If you watched our offense, a lot of times he's a guy that's arc releasing and blocking people, but nobody really -- people arc release fullbacks and tight ends but never offensive tackles, so he's athletic enough to arc, release out and block for our jet sweeps, and then obviously athletic enough to pull around and take, I guess, a reverse and go the other way.
Q. How would you describe the reaction from your team when you kind of see it work successfully, and how much does that sort of boost the factor into wanting to run it and at least the timing aspect?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, we've done a great job at some of those little plays that you put in weekly, and every week we've got four or five of them, and when we run them we run them, but it really seems like we've been nailing some of these as far as just working it just like you saw in practice. Sometimes you draw stuff up, whether it be an offensive, defensive or special teams play, we'll block a punt, you draw it up one way and it doesn't look like that on game day, and those are just a few plays that have looked exactly like you drew them up, exactly like you saw on the practice field, and you say, God, I hope it looks like that.
So it'll definitely boost your confidence. I think your kids look at the coaches and say, man, you guys are doing a great job and giving us opportunities to make plays.
I told Coach Canada, you go and have five a week, maybe just get ten, and maybe we'll score even more points.
Q. There's been a lot of interest down here in James Conner's story, and for those of us who aren't quite so familiar with it, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how he's been able to come back this year physically, mentally, any special things you've had to do to help him compensate from his recovery.
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, we really -- that's a great question. I know like everybody up here in I guess the northern area is familiar with James, but first off, I'll start by saying he's an incredible kid. I lost my mother-in-law a couple weeks ago, and I don't know if it's every other day he comes up and says, how's your wife doing, asking me -- just an unbelievable kid, and there are just not that many out there. He's a special, special individual. He's obviously a great athlete.
He's overcome some major, major adversity, and I think really a lot of people can't fathom really how much adversity he really had, when you think of chemo and if you saw him in the hospital getting poison pumped into his body to try to kill this cancer, it's amazing what he's done, and he's continued to get better.
During camp we didn't -- we tried to monitor him, know what he's doing, but we didn't really cut his reps down. We thought maybe we had to. I mean, how many people have to deal with this? But he did a great job of training his body coming into camp, but we are seeing him slowly I think even get better.
We put GPS's on our athletes, not every one of them, I think we've got 30 or 40 of them, so you spread them around, but James is a guy we always have one on, and he's practicing at even a higher speed right now than he did four weeks ago in the opener against Penn State, whoever it may be. He's practicing -- I think he played the other game at 20 miles per hour, which in previous games he was at 18, and you really could see it. I told him we're going to crank it up to 21 miles an hour this weekend, and again, I think those are some of the things you're seeing through the season, but he's done a great job of monitoring his own body, and he's tough.
Q. I know everybody's goal on a kickoff is to drive it through the end zone, but on the occasions when it lands, when it's in the end zone, is there a distance that -- I guess what I'm trying to ask is with Quadree Henderson, if he fields it six, seven yards deep, are you okay with him bringing it out?
PAT NARDUZZI: No, every week we give him a little bit different distance as far as where he can take it out. I think last week the Virginia Tech kicker would kick it deep, deep, deep, and I think going into last week's game, Virginia Tech really only had to cover six kicks on the year so far, so they haven't been making many tackles on their kickoff team. But for example, every week is a little different depending on the hang time and how much time you have, but we gave him the 3-yard line last week, and I think we got out to the 21-yard line, and it was like, gosh, maybe we should have just downed it in and maybe just said if it goes in the end zone you get it at the 25. It depends on who those animals are that are running down the field, how good is the hang time from the kick and all those things.
So those are something we measure and say what are our chances, and obviously we didn't block them good enough up front and they caught us at the 21. If we get out past the 26, 27, we've gained a couple yards extra, but if we don't, it's a mistake to take it out. But every week is a little different based on the kicker, his hang time and et cetera.
Q. Is he always chomping at the bit to want to bring it out on his own, and has he ever broken the rule that you give him before each game?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, no. He really hasn't broke that rule. I think he's very smart, and not a selfish player. I would probably consider a guy that would take it out when you told him not to a guy that was worried about him and me, me, me instead of we, we, we. He's a we guy, and Andre Powell does a great job as our special teams coordinator of making sure our guys are doing what they're supposed to. That's discipline, and he takes it out and gets tagged at the 15-yard line, our offensive coordinator is not going to be very happy with that drive to start.