In advance of Pitt’s toughest challenge yet this season, coach Pat Narduzzi spoke this afternoon on the weekly ACC conference call with media about the Panthers needing to head to Death Valley “with upset” on their mind. It's a tall task for the Panthers (5-4, 2-3 ACC) to upset No. 2 ranked Clemson (9-0, 6-0 ACC).
Game: 3:30 p.m.
Narduzzi's opening statement: "Obviously we have a great opportunity to travel down to Death Valley and play a really tremendous football team. Dabo Swinney has done an incredible job of really building his personnel, his system, put his mark on Clemson football. When you put on the tape, you see great coaching, you see great players, you see execution. They've got a winning attitude. Certainly have things going in the right way. They are the measuring stick really for the ACC conference, where everybody in the ACC would like to be. We get an opportunity to find out how we measure up Saturday at 3. I think our kids are looking forward to it.”
Q. Can you stop Clemson's offense or you just have to try to slow them down?
Narduzzi: “You have to try to slow them down enough. Saw an interesting stat today. They are 91-1 when they have over 500 yards of total offense. I'm like 90 times they've had over 500 yards of total offense? That's where college football is going. You don’t stop ‘em, you got to slow ‘em down. They have major play-makers. Deshaun Watson is running the whole thing. Gallagher is a fast guy. Mike Williams and Deon Cain, Deon is a backup, incredible football player. When you look at the talent, they got three underclassmen declared for the draft already, on top of all the great senior players they have. You slow them down, we got to be in position, we got to keep things in front of us for sure, make them earn it, try not to give up big plays."
Q. What is the one thing you have to do on offense and defense to win at Death Valley this weekend?
Narduzzi: “As a football team, we got to come in with some confidence that you can stop them, slow them down, score on them. Matt has done a great job with our offense all year. We have to continue to make some big plays. We're going to run our offense. We're not going to go down there and trick Brent Venables. You are not going to trick them. You have to out-execute them. Our kids, as you saw last night, upsets happen. That's what we’re going into Death Valley with, upset on our mind. Offensively we got to do what we do. Defensively we have to eliminate the big plays. There's so many weapons. You say stop the run. You have an athletic quarterback. Deshaun can run with it any time. They got weapons outside. Between stopping Deshaun in the backfield, trying to contain Ray-Ray McCloud, Artavis Scott, Mike Williams, Deon Cain. It's a handful. I might add that Jeff Scott and Marion Hobby have done a great job of co-coordinating that offense. When you watch it, it looks maybe simple, but they do a lot of great things with motion and checks you have to get in to really execute your defense. Our guys are going to have to be locked in, focused on the little things that we have to do with the crowd in mind. It will be a great challenge, but I think our kids are looking forward to it.”
Q. I know you could talk for an hour about what James Conner has been through in coming back. What does his return mean to you and the program?
Narduzzi: “It means a lot on the field and off the field. Off the field, you just look at him and we're just happy he's made it this far. He's defeated, beat up cancer. On top of all that, he's come back and really performed at, in my opinion, in an elite way as a football player. A lot of guys can beat cancer, I guess. Doesn’t happen every day. We all know people that have fallen to it. He's a guy that's not only beaten it, he's beaten the odds in every respect. He's been able to come back and compete. I think he's getting better every week.”
Q. I want to ask about your defensive line depth. You've been asked to use those guys a lot more than maybe you thought you would need to due to injuries. How do you think younger players like Folston, Edwards, Watts, have really stepped up these last couple weeks? What do you think they've done that shows you some hope for the future at that position?
Narduzzi: “They've really done a lot, to be honest with you. We've wanted to play them all along. We planned on playing Watts all year. You get into battles, sometimes they don't get as many reps as possible. Amir (Watts) got as many reps last week as he has really combined the entire year on defense. It was great to see. When you put the tape on, he's playing against I think a very good, experienced offensive line in Miami last week, really doing a great job. Jeremiah Taleni, I wouldn't call him a young guy, but a guy that has stepped up and made major improvements. I’m glad those guys are in there. I want Jeremiah, Amir to be playing a lot more inside. Soto and Tyrique Jarett are two great players. To go in there and take every snap, take 64, 85, 79 plays a game is hard. It's great that those guys have stepped up. At the defensive end spot with Folston, Edwards, Allen has done a great job. I'm happy, again, with where they are. They've been there all year. You'd like to be able to rotate those guys more. They're waiting their turn to get in there when we need them. They've stepped up and given us the best they can.”
Q. It sounded like Ejuan Price was disappointed with the way he played against Miami last week. He said as much after the game. How would you evaluate what he was able to do in that game?
Narduzzi: “Ejuan is a perfectionist. We kind of knew Miami would do what we call gap protection. They slid the protection to him a lot, which we anticipated. There's not a whole lot you can do. What you need to do is to continue to recruit and get another guy on the other side that can complement him, some guys inside. If you do that, I'm going to make you pay over here. I think that's the key. But Ejuan played a good game. Ejuan is a perfectionist, if he doesn't get three sacks a game, he's never happy, unless we get a W, then everybody is happy. Ejuan always wants more. That's why he's such a great player. He's motivated. He's focused. He wants to do whatever he can do to win a game.
Q. With the way the defense has been lately, did you see some warning signs of this in August or was this all kind of as the injuries unfolded?
Narduzzi: “I think injuries always play a role in that. You never expect things. I think things happen during the season that you can't anticipate. Obviously during camp I didn't anticipate, because I thought we did a good job against our own people. You're defending a different offense in camp, so you don't really see maybe the weaknesses of what maybe you have until you get into the season. Where we stand right now, I think four of our losses are to top-25 teams, good football teams. Miami is right there. You look at who Miami has lost to, they've lost to top-25 teams, top-10 teams. When you're playing competitive football, I mean, we can go win a lot of games in the MAC, but we play in the ACC conference. It's competitive. It's a work in progress. We're continuing to fight. Nothing surprises me. There's good players. You look at what you're facing every week from Virginia Tech to Oklahoma State to North Carolina with Switzer, now this weekend trying to make Mike Williams and Deon Cain, those guys, Deshaun Watson is a threat running and throwing it. He has a cannon arm. He's throwing the ball 70 yards down the field. He's unique. He's going to be a great NFL football player. I mean, those are things that you can't test yourself in doubles.”