Pitt returns to action this week to host No. 25 Virginia Tech on Thursday night, in what coach Pat Narduzzi described as a "must-win."
Both Pitt (5-2, 2-1 ACC) and Virginia Tech (5-2, 3-1 ACC) are still contending for the ACC Coastal Division title.
Here are Narduzzi's comments from his Monday press conference:
PAT NARDUZZI: It's good to get you guys back in here. It feels like it's been about three weeks, about three weeks since we have been here together, but I never thought I would say it's good to see you guys. But we got obviously a great opportunity on Thursday night. Against a really good football team that had a nice victory last week, against a very athletic Miami team. They beat North Carolina in a fashion that not a lot of people have been able to do. Coach Fuente, in his first season, you see their guys getting better, really, every week. Even in a loss you can see they're starting to grasp their offense and really what they kind of do on offense. And, of course, with Bud Foster and on defense they have continued to be a dominant defense, not only in the ACC, but in the nation, I guess, with where they're ranked. Offensively, obviously it's a new offensive coordinator and they do a lot of great things I think on offense. They're going to take what you give them, I guess, and so they will know what we're giving them and be a great game of cat and mouse. So with that I'll leave it open for questions.
Q. What has made Bud Foster a good coordinator over the years?
PAT NARDUZZI: He's aggressive. I think that probably most important thing about Bud is he does what he does, he doesn't get too fancy, they're 4-2, 3-4, but they're very consistent with what they do, very disciplined, they play smart, they know how they fit. I think any time you're together that long with a group of guys, that you've recruited and really built a defense around, what you want to do, that you'll be pretty good. And they got a great cast of players on defense from the back to the front. Missing two guys last week against Miami, they come in with backups and they look like the starters.
Q. Are those two Edmunds brothers, are those two guys you really have to watch?
PAT NARDUZZI: There's a bunch of them you got to watch. There's 11 of them out there. But it starts up front but the safety and linebacker are good players, no doubt about it, got a lot of respect, they wouldn't be in the Top-10 if they weren't.
Q. Is this the best defense you've faced so far this year?
PAT NARDUZZI: I made that comment earlier, I don't know who it was against, but every week it seems like you play a good one. But, based on the stats, without a question. Again, there was another good defense -- not sure who it was earlier, a couple weeks ago -- but without a doubt they're aggressive, they're athletic, they're smart, and they are playing fast football.
Q. You guys faced a couple of mobile quarterbacks already, what kind of challenges does Jerod present as a runner?
PAT NARDUZZI: He's bigger. He's a more physical runner. Saw that last week. Very efficient with the ball. He's thrown one or two picks, so he's not careless with it. He would rather take it down and run, try to gain some yards, instead of throwing to us. So, he's a good football player. How do you compare him? That's your job, I don't compare, I just know it's a guy we got to stop and he's very talented.
Q. Playing at home, at night, against a ranked opponent, lots of conference implications, how significant does this game feel to you?
PAT NARDUZZI: It's significant, but it's no more significant than last week's game. But it's important. It's in Heinz Field, it's our home, we expect, rain or shine, for the Panther Nation to come out and support us. It will be a great opportunity. I don't know if people -- I told our kids, it's right there for you, the pursuit and what you want is right there for you, it's there for the taking. Everything you wanted to do at the beginning of the season is sitting right in front of you on this Thursday night. So, it should be an electric crowd, you got two 5-2 football teams battling Thursday night. So, it's the only show at least at 7 o'clock, I don't know if there's a later game out west, but it's going to be a big game. It's huge.
Q. Does it feel like a must win if you want to get to the conference title game?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I would say so. I would say so. Based on how things look and I think every ACC game is a must win as we go on, as far as what you want to do. You're a 5-2 football team and each one of these games is important.
Q. Going back to the hiring process when you decided to make Coach Canada your offensive coordinator. The offense where it is now, is this the vision you guys talked about or has it evolved in a different direction?
PAT NARDUZZI: This is kind of what we talked about. This is what we thought we had. It's not like he walked up during the summer and said, hey, let's run this, let's try this. He's a very creative guy and it's power football, it's zone football, you've seen a lot of two backs, a lot of movement around, maybe a lot of three backs if you count that guy in motion. So it's what I thought we would get when we hired Matt, without question.
Q. To that point about not waking up and just discovering it this summer, did he pitch to you these ideas that he's had? I looked at your team, this is what I think you have, let's go with this. Or did he get in the lab with you collectively after being hired and say, this is probably what's best for us?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think it's what's best for us and how do you use your talent. But Matt's had his ideas for years. Again, like I said, he did not wake up to it. And as a good head coach, you never go in there and try to mess with the ingredients that he's done. He's had success wherever he's been. And for me to come in there and tell him how to do something -- we pass our ideas off, hey, how about this and whatever, but, in the long run, it's really his offense and how he deals with it.
Q. Past couple weeks Reggie [Mitchell] and Chris [Blewitt] have been like fourth captains. Is that sort of to get the seniors recognized or is that more merit based?
PAT NARDUZZI: I don't pick those. It's our captains, we choose who the honorary captain is, our game captain for the game. And usuallytomorrow we'll choose that. They have done a great job choosing, whether it was going down to Virginia and using Blewitt, was it because he was from Virginia or was it because he made the game winning field goal? I don't know. We'll let them continue to choose that. I really like the format we have got because it gives other guys an opportunity to lead. We have plenty of leaders, three are named captains [for the season], but it's a great way to go.
Q. Did the extra week give you any time to kind of heal up in any particular positions?
PAT NARDUZZI: Not in any particular positions, but it definitely gave our entire team a chance to get fresh, get healthy, and coaches as well to get ready for the long haul here the next five games.
Q. Is Virginia Tech's passing game much different than it was a year ago?
PAT NARDUZZI: That's so far in the rear view mirror as far as what they did in the past I would say yes. It's a new coaching staff and I think any time you have a new staff and a new coordinator that it's a totally new football team. They're spreading it out and they're going to do a good job of taking advantage of what you do defensively, where your weaknesses are. And you can see it as they go through, they got plays that set up plays, and if you do this, they're going to do that. So I would say it's totally different.
Q. When you look at Virginia Tech offensively, how much further along with the new coach and new scheme are they through seven games maybe compared to where they were after three or four?
PAT NARDUZZI: You say their defense?
PAT NARDUZZI: Their offense, okay. Every week you see new things, put it that way. We try to set up a game plan based on the games we had, then all of a sudden you see new stuff, not only new stuff but new alignments. New formation with the same personnel grouping. They're going to line up with two backs in the backfield most of the time, no tight end, with three wideouts. But they move them to make at least 11 to 13 different formations out of it. So you really have to adjust to that. They're doing everything out of two backs in the backfield. You look at the personnel they have, they do a good job of putting the best personnel they have on the field.
Q. I guess, offensively speaking, do you even look at tape from last year with the new coaching staff and new scheme or do you just sort of scrap that?
PAT NARDUZZI: You scrap that. You go back and plot maybe some of the big plays they had against you, look at it and find out, hey, is there something there that they may take from it, because I'm sure they peeked at that in the off season, so you'll take a peek at it to see what's there. But really especially on the other side of the ball with Coach Foster it is the same defense. But you don't put too much stock into it.
Q. Did you see any kind of pattern based on what made them lose to Syracuse yet knock off North Carolina and Miami in convincing fashion?
PAT NARDUZZI: No, you really don't see a pattern. It's maybe just coming ready to play. That's what I would attribute it to. But you can ask him that after. I don't know. Maybe he's answered that in the last couple weeks.
Q. Any benefit to getting an extra almost an extra full week or would you rather going in on the momentum of a three-game winning streak?
PAT NARDUZZI: You can go either way. You would like to keep the momentum, you would like to keep playing and stay in that same rhythm. However, it did give us a chance to get fresh and get healthy. I don't think it will play a big part either way. That won't be an excuse or a benefit. It is what it is and just got to play with it.
Q. [Does Pitt’s historic success against Virginia Tech help this week?]
PAT NARDUZZI: If we need the past to help with our confidence, then we probably got issues, hey, we got a chance to win because this is what happened in the past. It doesn't matter. This is a new football team. They're coming in here, they have never come in here in October, 2016 to play us. So they get a chance to come here and it's a new show. In my opinion.
Q. You've played most of the season without two of your three starting linebackers, the two guys or three guys who started the season at linebacker. How is the linebacking corps with the depth helped you to do what you're trying to do?
PAT NARDUZZI: You're juggling new guys in there every week. It's a different guy that's out and moved in there, Galambos has been -- I think he's here today, too, somewhere -- but he's been a mainstay in there and we need to keep that going. But Coach Harley has kept those guys together and seems like every week, whether it's Saleem Brightwell or Caprara in there, Seun Idowu, they have done a great job of going through and being the next man up mentality.
Q. Are you happy with your depth then at that position?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah. Never happy, never happy at any position, really, depth wise, you would like to have more. But as happy as you can be. It's what we got. It's all we got. Play with what we have.
Q. How big of an asset has Seun [Idowu] been in pass coverage since he is pass covering the slot receivers quite often?
PAT NARDUZZI: He's done a nice job out there. He's very sound. Just got to keep that going. But obviously if he's a starter we're happy with what he's been giving us out there.
Q. [Do you think a win on Thursday will push you into the rankings?]
PAT NARDUZZI: I don't worry about the rankings, because it doesn't matter. Shoot, they had Houston way at the top of the rankings and they didn't end up getting beat to the last game of the season. All that doesn't matter. We got to take care of business, one by one. I don't care about rankings, don't care about respect, you earn respect. We get an opportunity to earn it Thursday night. Shoot, they may not rank us again, it doesn't matter. We just keep plugging away with what we do and things will happen.
Q. Do you get a sense that your program is gaining respect not just nationally but locally? Talking to people, recruiting, things like that?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know what, I don't really bother with that stuff. Guys pat you on the back, they will pat you on the back one second, whether you're going to school and they say, hey, great year -- I really don't listen to that stuff. It doesn't really matter. I mean, respect, every day you're looking for it, trying to get more.
Q. The way you prepare your team though, managing the emotion for a game like this with the implications that it has, do you maybe build it up a little more or do you kind of keep it the same as every game?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think it's just like any other game. It's a big game, but so was last week and the week before and all the way back toSeptember 3rd and September 10th. Every one is like that. We try to treat them all very similar. Every one, every game's got a little bit new twist to it. But try to keep it consistent as far as what we're doing and play like that.
Q. Are you much of a fan of these Thursday night games? Obviously, coming off of a bye week, but in some situations you only have a five day break.
PAT NARDUZZI: I'm great with Thursday night when you don't play the week before. Because we got a couple days extra to prepare, get some new stuff in, and got a couple days after the game to get ready for the next one. So really it was perfect timing with the bye week. And I'm not a fan of playing on a Saturday and then playing again on a Thursday. Virginia Tech did an excellent job of getting their guys prepared for Miami last week on a short week. That's another impressive thing about what they did. And they didn't cut back on what they did, they did more. That was impressive.
Q. What did you like in the second half of the last game defensively and is there any carryover?
PAT NARDUZZI: There's no carrying over. The kids came out and played a sound second half, I think we gave up three points, I forget, that was so long ago. But there was really no carryover, except to look back and say, hey, what did we do to stop them in the second half and can we repeat that. But it comes down to fundamentals and attention to detail and what you're looking at and what you're doing and not trying to do too much, just play within the defense and do your job. It's really as simple as that, really. You try to make a big play or, hey, I want to get that pick, or I want to get that sack, and not play within the defense, you'll have problems. They got to play together, 11, 11 guys playing as one. I think that's the key.
Q. How big is the crowd going to be for you guys on Thursday, Thursday night, prime time, kids are going to be fired up. How important is that?
PAT NARDUZZI: The crowd's got to be, they have got to be a factor. You're looking at a fast tempo offense that probably -- we haven't talked about that -- probably will be as fast as a tempo as we have seen this year. We played and practiced for faster tempo in practice, but we haven't seen it on game day. Most people want to go fast, they want to speed up to slow down so they look to the sideline to get a good play. But they don't look to the sideline a whole bunch. Every once in a while you'll see Jerod kind of peek over and get a little look. The offensive coordinator stands about 10 yards in front of the offense, so he doesn't have to do this, he's over there, but there's not a whole lot of looking to the sidelines, so we expect plays to be snapped somewhere between 10 to 15 seconds. If we get 20 to 25 it will be a difference, a loud crowd can be an effect on Thursday night. It needs to be an effect.
Q. You said you let the team pick what uniforms you wear, is that right?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yes.
Q. What day of the week do they make that decision?
PAT NARDUZZI: Usually on Tuesday, Monday or Tuesday.