Pat Narduzzi made his weekly appearance on the ACC coaches teleconference Wednesday, during which he discussed Pitt's loss to North Carolina last Saturday while looking ahead to its game Saturday against Marshall.
Below is a transcript of that interview...
Good afternoon, everybody. Had another tough game last week down in Chapel Hill against a really good football team in North Carolina. After two tough ones, we're ready to rebound against another athletic team in Marshall that comes in here Saturday night at 7:30, and the kids have had a couple good days of practice, and I've talked about you have to go out and compete and play to win championships and win football games, and our kids have stepped up this week. We'll be ready for Saturday.
Q. Your run defense is tops in the ACC. I think it's third in the nation right now, despite going against some very, very good running backs, and also losing a starting along the defensive line and losing some quality depth before the season even started. To what do you attribute that improvement in your rush defense?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, we've worked hard on it. When you look at the North Carolina game and you look at some of the positives, I mean, a year ago North Carolina came into our house and rushed for 177 yards, and to hold them to 18 yards rushing is something that we pride ourselves on. Now, we've got to make some plays down the field to be able to do that, and we haven't done that at times. Again, we haven't got some calls on some other things.
I attribute it to our guys understanding what we're supposed to be doing defensively in the run game, but what we've got to do is a quality job in the passing game as we do in the running game. Those two things go together. I've seen some teams that are really good, and you're like, oh -- as a matter of fact, a few years ago, when I was at Michigan State, Michigan had a great pass defense. They were like top five in the country in pass defense. That's because everybody ran the ball down their throat.
So it's kind of which one do you want to be. If you're good at nothing, then you have a problem, and I think right now we've been good at the run game. We know people are going to come in, we know Marshall is going to come in this weekend and try to throw the ball. They've got a great quarterback in Chase Litton, who didn't have an opportunity to play against Louisville last week, so he'll be ready for us. We know we're going to get the passing game, so we're ready for it.
Now you've got to make plays. To be able to stop the run, you've got to get enough people in there, and again, I've never lost a game like we did last week. Obviously North Carolina had a little help in different directions, but I've never lost a game where we've rushed for 280 yards and they rushed for 18 and you lose the game. It doesn't happen like that. We get four sacks, they get zero. It just doesn't happen very often, and I truly believe this, and that's the only game in my 28 years that really broke that stat, that the better running team and the better rush defense wins the game.
I appreciate that note on the top three defense rushing, but we've got to win the football game.
Q. I was also going to ask about defensive line in the sense that you guys are leading the nation in sacks or tied for the lead in the nation in sacks. Is that a reflection of the talented front or some scheming you're doing?
PAT NARDUZZI: Probably scheming, I guess. Nobody wants to tell you that Ejuan Price isn't a touted guy. He is. But I think yesterday we checked, I think we had four sacks in base defense or four-man pressure, and the rest of them were when we're bringing some pressure. Probably should have had three or four more last week if things go our way, and in that two-minute drill we just didn't get it done one way or another, however that happens at times. But probably should have had seven last week, maybe eight.
We're going to come after you and attack you. People will struggle to block us. I wish everybody understood that.
Q. When you have that good a pressure and your pass defense is struggling, is that a sign of problems in the secondary, or is there something else?
PAT NARDUZZI: No, it's really not. When you pressure, we're not a big man pressure -- as a matter of fact, we're getting those sacks, we're playing zone behind it. We've got to do a better job of playing zone behind it to be able to tie in with our corners at times and vision and break better, but we've had some struggles playing base and playing with good fundamentals there. We've had some struggles obviously in some of our zone pressures.
But you've got a give-and-take in each one of those. When you're in zone pressure, you don't mind if they're throwing it underneath you, you vision up and break the tackle, but you've got to make the tackle. And when you're playing corners coverage and you're playing your base and you're pressed up out on the edge, then you've got to play good zone and hope you make a play on the ball.
They're throwing low-percentage fades up there, but if a guy is a 4-3 and can run and can get off the press pretty and you don't win at the line of scrimmage, then you have problems there. But the pressure nothing to do with that, it's just play with fundamentals and everybody doing their job.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the talent of Quadree Henderson? He almost broke that last kickoff return, at least I think he got a pass mid-field. That was pretty amazing. But just overall the kind of problems he presents for opposing defenses.
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, he's a great player. Quadree is -- he put the ball on the ground one time too many on Saturday. Just another one of those inches that will give you an opportunity to lose a game as opposed to win it. But when he's got the ball in his hands, he's electric, whether it's at kickoff return, he's a wideout, but all the jet sweeps that we hand off or don't, he's someone that people have to account for. He's got the ability to make you miss. He's got great wiggle, and he certainly has a knack to make you miss, and I think that's what makes him such a great football player, and he's a super kid, as well. He's always got a smile on his face at practice, and just a great kid to be around.
Q. I was looking at the scores of your last three games, 42-39, 45-38, 37-36, and yours is not -- you're not the only team in the ACC that has been in a lot of games like that. Is that just the nature of college football these days, and what do you have to do to prepare for it?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, it is -- I think it's straying that way for sure, and I think it's been doing that for years. I think every year you see at the end of the year, regular season, some statistician adds up all the points being scored, I bet you each year it's increased, and it's attributed to the spread offenses, all these run-pass options where offensive linemen can be four and five yards down the field and they don't call it and get away with it.
I think it's all those things that lead to this, and again, it's not easy. There's a lot of eye candy out there that people are giving out, and if you suck too long on the candy, you're going to be in problems. I certainly think it's the game that we're getting into, and I saw it while I was at Michigan State gradually turn. It's not like it used to be, and it's hard to defend all the spread formations, and people have more different ways of attacking you.
Q. I'm asking head coaches around the country, when things go bad on the side of the ball where you have your expertise, do you approach that concern different than another issue that comes up on your team? Do you get more involved or do anything when it's the offense in some cases or the defense in your case?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah. You certainly treat it a little bit different when it's your side of the ball as opposed to something you don't know anything about. I'd much rather it be the defense struggled a little bit, and offensively we've certainly been able to run the football. We could throw it a little bit better, but my expertise is on that side at least I can get in there and try to straighten things out and get us back to basics and doing the little things that help you win.
I've been there. We've had struggles wherever I've been. You're always going to have those years, those days, or those weeks where things don't go your way, and the important thing a week ago was to get back and make sure we stopped the run, and we did, and we'll clean up some things in the passing game. It comes down to making plays. You've got to have players to make plays, and we have the players to make them, they've just got to have confidence in going and making those plays.
But certainly when it's your side of the ball, I can pay more attention to that and get in there and try to use my knowledge to help them out.
Q. How much do you get involved? Do you call plays delegate wanting to fix it without letting the staff do what they do on that side?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I was a defensive coordinator long enough to know that I think when the head coach starts to med will in, it becomes a problem. The best thing I can do to help our defense is be in meetings and help them game plan, make sure we're sound based on what people are doing to you offensively. But on game day, I let Josh make those calls. He's the defensive coordinator. It's what I pay him to do. I really want to stay out of it and not mess with his mojo.
Again, we all know sometimes it comes down to guys making plays, and again, our job as coaches is to put those guys in position to make them, and then we've got to make them. There's been some things where we haven't put them in position to make plays, and that's where I can come in and help.
Q. When you talk about needing to clean up certain things with the pass defense, what do you go about cleaning up in order to kind of get the end result you're hoping for?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, every week it's a different thing. You know, you plug up one leak and all of a sudden you spring one somewhere else.
Really it's coming down to fundamentals. That's where it comes down to, and making sure that the kids don't have too many checks back there to call as far as coverages go. Cover four as far as people term it is the mother of all coverages. There's a different check here and there based on alignments and splits and the amount of receivers, however tight and loose they are, and we've got to make sure we cut down the mistakes that we're having there and the communication, and they're able to execute not only the fundamentals but the techniques that are involved.
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