Narduzzi Notes: Virginia week

Written by Sam Werner on .

Pat Narduzzi met with the media this morning to preview Pitt's game against Virginia (the video is above). He said that, despite the win on Saturday, film study still showed plenty of areas where Pitt can improve upon moving forward. Here are a couple of other notes from the day...

- One of the topics I'm most interested in moving forward is how often Pitt uses backup quarterback Chad Voytik and his special "package" (or whatever you'd like to call it).
"I think every week we will have something going in," Narduzzi said. "I think he's a great football player and we want to keep him warmed up and ready to go. As a defensive coordinator, everyone is vulnerable to quarterback runs and it's the 11th guy."
Unprompted, Narduzzi also admitted that, eventually, Voytik is going to have to throw the ball to keep defenses honest. He even said that he wanted Voytik's first play Saturday to be a pass ("maybe this week") but the defense didn't call for it.
"Well we know he can throw the ball," Narduzzi said. "He was the starter a year ago. But, I think everyone is going to think that he's going to run it and I don't want that to be the case. He will run the ball and he will throw the ball."

- As I mentioned this morning, Qadree Ollison is listed as Pitt's starting tailback this week, and it looks like he's starting to separate himself from the pack a little bit.
"When he hits it up there, on that fourth and one, and not stuttering his feet — he's not a slashing back, he's a big bruising back," Narduzzi said. "He can play like that once it becomes a habit because that's how tailbacks run. I think he may have figured that out. Hopefully he can just get downhill and run."

- Narduzzi said that most of Pitt's pressure Saturday came from five- and six-man blitzes. It's something they'll continue to do, but they have to be careful because Virginia likes to run a lot of screens, which could expose Pitt if the Panthers are bringing pressure.
"We practiced the heck out of it last week," Narduzzi said. "Virginia Tech must've known we were practicing a lot of it, so we've got to get two good weeks of screen play and teaching our guys how to play the screen better. [Virginia] runs a ton of different screens and we'll really be ready for it."

- Pitt didn't really test the vertical passing game much against Virginia Tech and, when they did, they didn't find much success. They tried a couple of deep balls late to try and put the game away, but Narduzzi said they'll keep trying to work downfield when it makes sense.
"It's not easy," he said. "Nathan [Peterman] is going through his reads and we'll hit a few of them. It's nice to win without them. We'll hit them when we need to."

- Despite the forecast, Narduzzi said he didn't think the weather played a major role Saturday. It did stop raining in the second half, and, especially compared to Akron a couple of weeks ago, it was a pretty good weather game.

- As for this week, it'll be interesting to see what kind of crowd Pitt gets on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers have a lot of positive momentum right now...but it's also a game against a mediocre opponent (with a potential Pirates playoff game later that evening).
"I think winning takes care of that," Narduzzi said. "Putting a product on the field when people know they're going to see an explosive offense and a nasty defense. I'd come watch that."

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Goaltenders must adjust to three-on-three overtime - 10-04-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

With the NHL implementing three-on-three overtime this season in order to increase offense and avoid shootouts, one would assume goaltenders would be leery of the wide open play.

Penguins backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff is perfectly fine with it.

“It's fun,” Zatkoff said after a 4-2 home preseason loss to the Blue Jackets Sept. 26. “There's a lot of open ice. Right off the bat, [Blue Jackets left winger Brandon] Saad [came] down the wing. I think you're just going to see a lot more shots coming down wide.”

Penguins center Sidney Crosby scored during a demonstration overtime period. Circling the offensive zone, Crosby used Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard as a screen in the right circle and sniped a wrister behind goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

“I thought the way we scored was kind of weird,” said Zatkoff. “Usually, you don't see goals like that three-on-three off zone possession play. But Sid made a great shot. It kind of stays controlled till something opens up and you try to transition if you get a save and go back up the other way.”

While there have been many questions on how skaters will fare with the open ice during three-on-three play, there are adjustments goaltenders need to make as well.

"Be patient," said starter Marc-Andre Fleury. "You have to stay on your feet as much as you can. You have those blue line passes. All those good players will try to find each other out there. You have more time than usual, right? There's more room. My key thing would probably be patient."

"There's really not traffic,” Zatkoff said.”What you're aware of is how long your guys have been out there. If you have an opportunity to move it forward or whether you have to cover it. It's just a lot of [reading the play]. A lot of it, you're going to be seeing it coming from half ice. Usually, it's established by then. Plays aren't developing for the most part in zone. They're developing coming at you so you've got to read them earlier."

Another aspect of the new overtime format is that the benches are now on the far end of the ice. So skaters must be precise when they make line changes. For goaltenders, being aware of which attacking players are entering the ice takes on greater importance.

"Maybe a little more," Fleury said. "It's so intense three-on-three. It's a lot of man-on-man and you don't want a guy in there for a long time, a long change and losing his guy. I think if I can be more aware of … to know who is out there, maybe I can make a pass sometime."  

(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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McGinty pushes Toomey to bring back gun control bill

Leanne DiLorenzo, 48, leaves flowers at a memorial outside Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, October 3, 2015. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Just days after a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon , Katie McGinty is continuing her pressure on Sen. Pat Toomey to reintroduce gun control legislation that was defeated in...

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Three thoughts: Oklahoma 44, West Virginia 24

Written by Craig Meyer on .

(Photo: AP)

West Virginia lost its first game of the 2015 season last Saturday, dropping a 44-24 decision on the road against Oklahoma. Here are a few takeaways and observations from that game.

1. It's time to pump the brakes

This is as much an indictment of fans as it is media members like myself. After the 45-6 rout of Maryland, I wrote that the win could be 'the start of something' heading into an unforgiving four-game stretch. That could still turn out to be true, but the loss to the Sooners did little to back that up. West Virginia was within three points late in the third quarter, but for much of the game, it looked overmatched, unable to slow down the Oklahoma passing attack for extended stretches while consistently losing the battle at the line of scrimmage. Had it not been for the Sooners' slew of first-half penalties, including six flags for 75 yards in the first quarter, it could have been a lot uglier Saturday. The game didn't invalidate the belief that the Mountaineers can win a Big 12 title, but it a) made that goal a lot more difficult and b) made it a whole lot harder to envision.

This point, though, works both ways. While the 20-point loss tempered expectations, it shouldn't completely torpedo them. Yes, West Virginia was outclassed, but it was done on the road against a top-10 team that could very well be 9-0 heading into its Nov. 14 game at Baylor. Of course, Oklahoma could fall apart much like it did last season, but based on what it has accomplished and where it is right now, this is a very good team that has the look of a College Football Playoff contender, even if its win against the Mountaineers was far from perfect. If I had to sum it up in a sentence, this was a a team likely to finish 10-2 winning at home against a team likely to finish 8-4. This West Virginia squad isn't the overwhelmingly-dominant Goliath we saw in the first three games, but it's certainly not a bad, fatally-flawed team, either.

2. Skyler Howard is, in fact, prone to mistakes

One game doesn't establish or negate a quarterback trait, but it does force you to rethink how you evaluate a passer. For months, we had written about Howard's care with the ball, and we did so for good reason. His coaches -- particularly Dana Holgorsen -- praised him over and over about it, and the stats backed it up. In seven career games, or 226 passes, heading into the Oklahoma game, Howard had just two turnovers, a fumble and an interception. He may fashion himself a gunslinger, but he is a pragmatic passer, or at least that's how the story went.

Against the Sooners, Howard had five turnovers -- three interceptions and two fumbles -- that led to 13 Oklahoma points. When he wasn't turning the ball over, he looked skittish and uncomfortable in the pocket, even in moments when he had a good deal of protection. He overthrew receivers in certain instances and in others, he didn't have enough power behind his passes. Holgorsen took some of the blame for Howard's underwhelming performance, saying that he centered too much of his offensive strategy around downfield passes, but after seeing what we did Saturday, it's also fair to question how we evaluated his quarterback up to that point. Howard's previous three starts this season, impressive as they were, came against a Sun Belt team, an FCS foe and a 2-3 Maryland team that may be staging a coup against its coach. Last season, his two starts came against a 2-10 Iowa State team and a Texas A&M team that fired its defensive coordinator a month before the Liberty Bowl. In the biggest test of his young career, Howard came up noticeably short. How he responds to that in the coming weeks will be a true test for him and, by extension, the West Virginia offense.

3. The secondary looked vulnerable

Entering the season, West Virginia's secondary had as much hype as any single facet of the team and through the first three games, that chatter was more than legitimized. Against its first true test of the season, though, it, too, came up short. On an afternoon where the defensive line and linebackers were pretty good -- limiting Samaje Perine below his yards-per-carry average for the season -- the Mountaineers were torched by Baker Mayfield, who finished the day with 320 passing yards and three touchdowns. Karl Joseph had some huge hits and an interception, but the secondary largely struggled in pass coverage, getting beaten badly on some routes and, at times, just looking a step slower than the Oklahoma receivers.

Some attributed the Sooners' success to a few big plays, which isn't entirely invalid, but it doesn't absolve West Virginia's defense of a pretty poor day. Of Mayfield's 14 completions, three went for at least 30 yards (sort of an arbitrary barometer for a big play, but that's what we'll go with) with those throws accounting for 147 yards. Even if you take those out of the equation, Mayfield still averaged 7.9 yards per attempt and 15.7 yards per completion. Those numbers are indicative of a day in which the Oklahoma passing attack had its way, something that was clear to most anyone watching the game. If the Mountaineers hope to escape this month with a win, that will have to get better.

My weekly overreaction

West Virginia will lose its next three games, all by at least one touchdown, and William Crest will be the team's quarterback by the end of the month.


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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Pitt releases depth chart for Virginia

Written by Sam Werner on .

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 8.22.21 AM

Pitt released its official two-deep for the Virginia game this morning, which you can see above. Not a ton of changes from previous weeks but here are a couple of notes...

- On offense, the only difference from last week is Qadree Ollison listed as the starter ahead of Chris James and Darrin Hall. Last week, all three were co-starters, separated by "ORs." Having Ollison as the starter reflects what we saw Saturday against Virginia Tech, so it really isn't too much of a surprise. Hall being listed should also be an indicator that his injury isn't expected to be serious, and he should be back this week.

- On defense, it looks like Bam Bradley has finally seized the starting "Money" linebacker spot ahead of Mike Caprara. They've been listed as co-starters up until this point, but now Bradley is listed ahead of Caprara. Both played a decent amount against the Hokies, and both had a sack (Caprara also added an INT). Realistically, I would still expect Caprara to see his fair share of snaps, especially when Pitt goes into its nickel package. But Bradley has pulled ahead in the base formation for now.

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