Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi and North Carolina coach Larry Fedora joined the ACC coaches' teleconference earlier this week to answer questions about their teams' matchup Saturday, a game that will almost certainly play a large hand in determining the ACC coastal division champion.
Below is a transcript of those interviews:
Obviously we came off a tough loss on the road at I think a very good should be 3-0 Oklahoma State football program, and we move on to this week. Obviously we take on the Coastal champion North Carolina, who beat us by seven points last year at Heinz Field, and we get to go down to Chapel Hill and take on a very good football team.
They've got a lot of returning players from the championship team, and it's a heck of a way to start off the ACC play against the best. But the Panthers are up for that challenge.
Q. With what's been kind of popping up with the secondary of late, is that something that's caught you by surprise at all, or was that privately a concern for you going into the season based on how you had kind of evaluated yourselves in August?
NARDUZZI: No, not really. Nothing comes as a surprise. We're a football team that's committed to stopping the run. What surprised me is that we gave up a 67-yard run. That probably was the touchdown that broke the camel's back I guess if you want to say, and that's one of the things you can't do. But no, it didn't shock me at all. If you replay back to last Wednesday's press conference, I told you they had some very good receivers out there. The Washington kid is going to be a top NFL player, probably a top-round draft choice here when he declares himself eligible for the NFL, and we very well knew that that quarterback was good. Now, how well do you know it? You go in your scout practices every week and you do a good job covering him and then you get out there, and all of a sudden it's a different deal. It presented a mismatch problem for us, and so will North Carolina for that matter.
It's one of those games that you need to really -- that it just lets your kids know how important technique is, fundamentals are, and you can't ever go away from it. When you're playing against great players, you've got to play with better technique.
So it didn't shock me because it happens. Every football team I've been on has one of those days, and again, as bad as it looked for me as a football coach on the sideline, we're in position with two minutes to go to win the football game, and that's all that matters is wins.
I don't care about stats. I've won a lot of games where we've had someone throw for over 500 yards. We beat Baylor a couple years ago when they rushed for minus 18 yards and threw for over 500, and we beat them.
The disappointing thing was that we let them throw the ball, and we also let them run the ball, and again, they wouldn't have run the ball if we take away I think it was a 67-yard run. That's just philosophies, and those other guys are on scholarship, too, and they'll be on scholarship this week, too, so it really doesn't concern me. I've got faith and trust what we're doing, we've just got to play with good technique.
Q. You said there's a mismatch issue for you this week, too, you're concerned about?
NARDUZZI: Well, there always is. Every week we're going to have those problems. The first thing you look at is Ryan Switzer who can take over a game by himself. He's a slot receiver, so he'll obviously be matched up on our free safeties and our strong safeties. I'm sure they'll go some formation in the boundary like Oklahoma State did, so we've prepared a lot for that.
And then when you look at the other speedster out there, they've got a lot of good players, but Matt Collins is a guy that can -- he can run. I mean, he's 6'4", so he presents the jump ball with his height, so there will be a height mismatch as well as a speed mismatch. And when I say mismatch, I'm just saying it'll be a battle out there, and they're going to take their shots off of what they saw last week without question and they've got a very good quarterback in Mitch Trubisky. I recruited him in the past. We offered him where I've been, Mentor Lake Catholic kid, and he's a super player, and I know they're excited about him. I know they'll be excited for a few years, and I know I was excited about him when I recruited him. It's a guy I'm familiar with. If he was in South Carolina or North Carolina or Florida, maybe I wouldn't know as much about him, but I've been in his high school, I've sat down and talked with him, and I know what type of person he is. He's a super kid. He's a great player.
Q. Elijah Hood, just what you can say about North Carolina's running back as well as their rushing attack as a whole.
NARDUZZI: Well, when you talk about Elijah Hood, the first thing you talk about is that offensive line. They have four returning starters, and they're physical, they're strong, and they play together well. You don't see many times where they're blocking the wrong guy or they get confused. They do a great job coaching, so they're well-coached.
And then Elijah Hood is a football player. He's a bigger back. He's a 230-pound back, so we've got a perfect scout team guy in -- Kaezon Pugh has been playing him this week, so we've got a big, physical back. I don't think Kaezon is as fast as he is, but he's got deceptive speed for his size. When he gets out on the edge, he runs by people and you kind of go, wow, he can't do that as big as he is. But he does. So he's a physical runner inside.
But if you make him bounce it, he's got the breakaway speed. He's a very good football player. We struggled to contain the rush game last year, and now you've got to worry about the pass as well as stopping him in the run game, so it's a unique challenge.
Oklahoma State was a team that we really thought we could handle the run, and we knew the pass would be a challenge. This week, you're going, okay, we've got to handle the run and also handle those receivers, and they've got a slew of them out there that can run.
Q. Obviously you spoke very highly of Mitch Trubisky, but for your quarterback what you can say on your side, how you've assessed Nathan through the first few games this season.
NARDUZZI: You know, Nathan, in three games -- first week we obviously didn't do a lot, and we weren't happy with him the first week for whatever reason. But that's water under the bridge. But the last two weeks Nathan has really done a nice job. We'd like him to make a few more shots on 3rd down and convert and move the sticks a couple more times, but you're looking for perfection as coaches, and we've been very, very happy with the way Nathan Peterman has played.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the matchup at kickoff returners. So far this year, Qadree and UNC's TJ Logan have been the two really dangerous kickoff returners; both have touchdowns on kickoff. Can you talk about coverage and how important that will be in the game?
NARDUZZI: Well, it always is. You talk about kickoff coverage, that's obviously a concern, but then punt coverage is the same concern with Switzer being back there because he's got great guts. I mean, that guy is a grinder. He's a football player. I don't know if you saw the one last week where he pretends like he fair catches but he doesn't. He didn't use a false signal or anything, but he just stood back there and caught the punt and kind of pretended like he kind of got like the lazy thing, and then he took off running with the ball. Everybody is standing around, the whistle hadn't been blown, he takes off running. He's got that kind of composure and moxie. He's a great football player.
Like any game, and this is no different, they've got weapons at the kickoff returner and a punt returner, and our coverage teams are huge in that. We'd like to win the field position war, and field position starts with our special teams and our coverage teams as well as our return teams. At the end of the day, field position is going to be an important thing, and it starts with those coverage teams. Where are they going to start their first drive and where are we going to start our first drive and so forth, if there's 15 to 18 possessions those punt returns and kick returns are going to be enormous.
Q. And I also wanted to ask a question backwards; I believe the game was tied early in the fourth quarter when you had the long delay last week. Did that impact the team or the game in any way?
NARDUZZI: No. No. It would be an excuse to say it did because we both had the same delay. I think our kids came out and played well. They ran a stutter go that made me reminisce back to Michael Thomas for Ohio State that ran against somebody -- I actually Googled it on Monday, I said I've got to see that, and I just Googled the best stutter go ever, and all of a sudden Michael Thomas's stutter go, it was the exact same stutter go that we saw, and I don't know who the corner because, with you Herbstreit was doing the announcing on my phone as I was watching it, and he said, that's one of the top corners in the country.
We can talk top corners, you can talk average corners or the best corner, it doesn't matter. It was a great route by a great receiver with great speed.
But the lightning delay is something we both had to deal with. I'm sure they had a little plusher locker room. I think lightning delay is always an advantage to the home team. To the away team I think a spacious locker room -- if you could have seen us in the locker room, the only thing that was a disadvantage for us was the locker room that we're in compared to what they probably were in. I have never been in their locker room, but if it's anything like our home locker room, it's a little bit more comfortable, and we had guys using helmets as pillows for that two hours or whatever it was, and it was just a sloppy mess. It looked like the slums after we walked out of there. It was bad.
But our guys were ready when they came out, and I don't think it had any impact at all.
Q. Both teams obviously capable of scoring a lot of points, and the nature of college football today seems to lend itself to high-scoring games, sometimes both teams in the 40s. You've played a bunch of those so far this year. Carolina certainly has. How has that changed your game preparation through the years, if any?
NARDUZZI: You know what, you're exactly right. It's become an offensive game, and defensive coordinators got the tougher job, there's no question. There's more one-on-ones -- people talk about coverages and all those things, there's more one-on-ones out there than there ever has been. If you went back 20 years ago and people are lining up in I-backs, there's a lot of different stuff. There's not a whole lot of different stuff you can do coverage wise, so that's why they do it. They're tempoing you, they're spreading the field and making you cover the entire field, and when you're spaced out like that, you either open up the run or you open up a pass, and it depends on how you want to die, with the run or the pass, and you can mix it up and be unsound in both and cause yourself problems, and everybody has got a philosophy.
I think our philosophy defensively is a little bit different than North Carolina. North Carolina is going to let you run a ball little bit, but they don't want to give up the big pass, and we'd like you to not run the ball and we'd rather be beat with a pass. So everybody has got their philosophy, but we'd like to be sounder in coverage and play with better fundamentals.
Q. A lot of times games don't play out the way they look on paper, but is there a certain amount of points that you figure that if we score this many in this game that we'll be safe there?
NARDUZZI: Well, if we score 60 or 70 I'd say we'd probably be safe, okay. I mean, no, you can't ever say that. Our offense's goal is to score more points than they do, so we never put a lid on, hey, if we do this, we'll win. Never. That component is never in our what we call keys to victory. It is score more points than they do, and defensively we've got to stop them. We have a goal that we'd like to hold people to, but we know that's fluid, especially in this game.
We're looking forward to starting conference play. We've got a great team coming in in the University of Pitt. They're extremely good in all three phases of the game, offensively, defensively and on their special teams. It should be a hard-fought battle.
Q. As far as going up against Pitt, what can you say about James Conner, not only what he's been able to do on the field, the threat he is offensively, but also just his story and his ability to get back on the field.
FEDORA: First of all, it's a tremendous tribute to him for him to even be on the football field at this time, what he's overcome, and also to be playing at an extremely high level like he is. I mean, there's nothing that's different from when he was the Player of the Year two years ago. I mean, the guy has picked up right where he left off, running very, very physical. He's very difficult to bring down. He's just a heck of a player.
Q. As far as going up against their offense as a whole, just what you've been able to take away from them on film and what you see outside of James Conner?
FEDORA: Well, they do a great job with all their speed sweep series, which will pull the defense apart, then they hit you inside with big James Conner that is extremely tough to bring down.
It definitely is challenging with all the shifting and motioning, all the different things that they do.
Q. I think that Gene told some of the reporters after practice yesterday he felt the defense was soft, and wasn't happy with the performance last week. Now you're facing obviously a team that can run the ball really well. Just curious what the key is going to be to be able to be better there and to slow down what Pittsburgh does.
FEDORA: Well, I think the biggest part is having an attitude adjustment and making sure that we come out with the type of energy that we need to play with. If you play with the type of energy we have, you're going to play soft, be slow, do all those things that aren't going to enable you to be a good football team. I think we'll make sure we'll get that corrected.
Q. Why do you think that has been an issue?
FEDORA: Well, I only felt like that was an issue in this last game. That's where I felt like there was an issue.
In the previous two games, the issue was early on just making adjustments to what they were going to do, you know. You go back to the first game, you had a really good runningback, and he did a great job against us.
Q. Have you seen any change in Pitt's offense, what they do, with the addition of Matt Canada as their offensive coordinator?
FEDORA: No doubt. The shifting and movement and all those things are pretty much the same. But the jet sweep series that he has, all the bells and whistles off of it, are the things that make it really tough for you.
Q. Obviously week one was not the ideal performance for Mitch in terms of his passing downfield, kind of stretching the field. What kind of went into that and what has been different for him the last couple weeks?
FEDORA: I think he was anxious in that first one. I think he tried to do too much. He tried to meet everybody's expectations that were out there. He doesn't need to do that. He just needs to play within the system.
I think in the last couple of weeks, you've seen him start doing that and become the guy that he really is.
Q. What is the health status for some of those guys that have been dinged up on the offensive line? Are you expecting to be more 100% for Pitt?
FEDORA: I'm expecting for whoever plays to play hard. That's what I'm expecting. It was a good try, though.
Q. Pitt tries very hard to stop the run. You're averaging six yards a carry on an experienced offensive line, two experienced rushers. Do you consider that to be a key matchup this week, to be able to run the ball?
FEDORA: I believe both teams believe they got to run the ball to be successful. We've always believed that we need to be able to run the ball effectively to be successful. That doesn't necessarily mean we got to rush for 200, 300 yards a game for us to be effective.
But, you know, I know that they hang their hat on it. We believe the same thing, that you got to be able to run the ball to be successful. So I would say it should be a pretty good matchup.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the impact Ryan Switzer has made on and off the field not just in this season but in previous seasons he's been at North Carolina.
FEDORA: Yeah, first of all, he's a great young man. He does everything that we ask him to do. He does well in the classroom. He's a great ambassador of our program. He's well-loved.
On the field, his actions speak for itself. He makes plays for us in the special teams. He makes plays us for us as a receiver. He really is a lot of fun to coach, he really is.
It's hard to believe that he's in his senior year and a quarter of his season is over with and it will be over with before we know it. I'm hoping he's cherishing each and every moment.
Q. What, if anything, have you talked to the team about this week on the issue of penalties to try to reduce those as the season goes forward?
FEDORA: I mean, yeah, personal fouls are not acceptable. We're not going to have 'em. All that is is being selfish. There's no doubt about it. We're not going to have personal fouls.
Yes, we did have a very extensive conversation about it.