September 27, 2016

The Loss That Lingers

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Narduzzi — Chas @ 7:13 am

It’s been pointed out here, and elsewhere that going into the season 2-2 at this point would be a reasonable expectation for this team and having two road games against 2 preseason top-25 teams. That is true. It still doesn’t make the losses — especially the last one — any less frustrating nor does it diminish the feeling that Pitt blew it.

Head Coach Pat Narduzzi’s Monday presser, generally conflicts between a coach that wants to move on to the next game and questions based on the last one — unless the next opponent is really good. With Marshall up next, you can imagine where most of the questions went.

The transcript is abridged and questions summarized, but there was still some interesting nuggets beyond hinted, minor, unspecified personnel changes and players likely to return from injury (LB Mike Capara and at some point, perhaps DB Damar Hamlin).

This part stood out in light of the 4th quarter debacles on the offense.

On the offense being conservative in the fourth quarter against North Carolina:

“When you look at our offense, it’s not really conservative. There’s a lot of stuff going on with our offense and plenty of moving parts. They had trouble defending it at times. If we go out there this week and don’t rush the ball, well you guys [the media] will come into next week and say, ‘Why didn’t you run the ball?’ Those incomplete passes will wear you out. The one thing they did well is they played great pass coverage. We wanted to take advantage of what they don’t do well, and I think we did. We ran the football well — just like we wanted to. I don’t know if we will ever see a result like that if the numbers are what they were at the end of the game. College football is really changing — for the worse, I guess.”

A bit of misdirection in the answer. The question wasn’t about passing more as defining a conservative offense. It was about the offense going conservative. Very different things. All the motion on the line stopped. All the runs to the outside disappeared. As Chris Peak at Panther Lair noted:  “Pitt had 13 fourth-quarter possessions in the last 3 games. 9 punts, 1 INT, 1 fumble, 1 FG and 1 touchdown.” And that Pitt had only 1 third down conversion in the 4th quarter of those 3 games.

So either the offense got very conservative or the opposing defenses suddenly became very stout.

On the subject of personnel changes, for the most part, Narduzzi is correct that there won’t be a lot. As bad as the defense has been against the pass, there aren’t a lot of choices behind who is playing in the secondary unless you are absolutely sure that it is worth burning redshirts on Coleman, Garner, Hill and/or Miller.

Saleem Brightwell definitely earned more time at LB, but outside of that there aren’t going to be any significant changes to the D-line or linebackers. Some players might be out there more, but they were already playing.

I suspect the youth will be served if the season goes south but I don’t believe PN is there yet. PN doesn’t like to play young ones, look at the talk of the FR DLs – not exactly playing.

Comment by rkb 09.27.16 @ 7:39 am

Chas, substitute Hamlin for Hill in your article above

Comment by wbb 09.27.16 @ 8:09 am

Pitt sucks, I’m so tired of the bullshit every year.
I wish I could not care as much as I do.
Damn you Pitt.
I threw a wild Oktoberfest Saturday the food and the beer was so good, all my friends were there, Pitt was up big, the win looked so satisfying. Then I watched UNC convert multiple 4th downs and we lost. The party was still great, but the loss stung.
Thanks to the coaches for losing this game.

Comment by Justin Gilmore 09.27.16 @ 8:43 am

The coaches became conservative but it was the players that did not make the plays.

Comment by grizzly1 09.27.16 @ 9:01 am

That 1 4th qt td came after Henderson returned the kick to the 10, or they wouldn’t have scored any td’s. I’m pretty sure that is the 1 converted 3rd down as well since it was on 3rd down when Conner scored on the shovel pass. Pathetic

Comment by Nick 09.27.16 @ 9:09 am

Chris Peak’s quote says it all. While I generally thought Narduzzi did a good job at the presser, he rally danced around the fourth quarter question.

Before you can solve a problem you have to admit there is a problem. It sure sounds like he is in denial to me. He sounded more like a politician than a football coach.

One third down conversion in the fourth quarter and way too many 3 and outs. As a coach it sounds like something I would be aware of and trying to address. Why the obfuscation?

“College football is changing-for the worse I guess” What does that even mean? Fess up, and fix the problem!

Comment by gc 09.27.16 @ 9:12 am

The D missed Caprara and Bradley, they are usually good for a few big plays each game. Maybe would have made a difference. But that is football, you play with what you got.

Comment by gc 09.27.16 @ 9:17 am

I just posted something similar in the previous comments section. You can take what you want from it but it’s what I believe is the problem. Those looking for a quick fix will not be happy.

This has been going on since 2009 and you could argue for 30 years. Pitt is 2nd in the nation with losses by 3 points or less since 2009 with 14. The 1st being Iowa with 16. That’s a byproduct of conservative offenses and trying to win with defense when CFB has transitioned to attacking offenses in addition to a cultural problem in the program. In fact, Iowa learned that lesson against NDST again. One good year just reassured the coaches at Iowa the their way works when historically the odds are against them.

Yes, playing it close to the vest puts your team in positions to win but it also means you have to be perfect down the stretch in close out games. Pitt and Iowa have been less than perfect more times than perfect. Good luck Iowa. See you in the top 10 in another decade … maybe.

The culture problem at Pitt is harder to fix and is deeply rooted and ingrained into the program. The attempt at a cultural shift started with a complete rip and replace of the Pitt administration from School Chancellor to AD to Coach. That’s a start. And not only a good one, the right one. It was time.

The harder fix at Pitt is the kids that have been in the program for a couple of years. It’s not their fault but they are a hinderance to progress. Murphy’s Law is the law of the land. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Pitt players believe this. Pitt fans believe this. Who knows, even the coaches may start to believe this. It’s been going on for so long, it’s not just an adage, it’s a way of life.

That’s hard to overcome. Whether it’s the coaches going conservative with play calling or the players not making plays. Make no mistake, Murphy’s Law is playing a role.

That drive at the end of the 1st half probably killed any shot at Pitt being aggressive in the 4th quarter. Pitt’s best player so far this season fumbling on the best play Pitt has been running all season … going for a big gain and a first down … to only fumble and give up a FG seconds later.

Once the kids are graduated from the program and/or out of leadership roles, hopefully the new recruits aren’t tainted and the school can progress.

There’s been talk about how good coaches win right away. It’s not that simple … and very very very rare. Circumstance plays a big part in how rebuilds go and PN did not inherit a team in a good place mentally to go along with the deep deficiencies in talent and depth at important position units.

Pitt has a roster full of role players. You need role played but you can’t have a roster full of them … You don’t have great players or horrible played so you end up with an average team … 6 or 7 wins is the median. PN won 8 his first season.

The fans contribute to this too. It’s human nature. We’ve been conditioned to expect the worst. SOP or Pitting or Murphy’s Law. However you want to put it. After 30 years, patience is not a word most of us want to hear and it doesn’t help that we’re conditioned to expect the worst.

Patience is required though. With what Pitt has been through, no one will just come in and be a contender. Outside of Saban or Meyer, I’d call BS on any other coach winning immediately. I even think they’d have a hard time at Pitt. Not because of recruiting but because of Murphy’s Law. That stigma of always expecting the worst is not easily flipped on and off.

Pitt, and it’s fans, are like a sensitive kid right now. PN is trying to teach the kids how to close out games. The whole 4th qtr program is an effort to do that. It hasn’t worked out that way … yet. Eventually, I think it will. It’s not easy going from the one being bullied to being the bully. That’s what PN is trying to do and it’s not a one or two year fix.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.27.16 @ 9:25 am

TT I understand exactly what you are talking about. Saturday in the 4th quarter with UNC driving my brother and I both texted each other, well Pitt lost and not another word was spoken. I want to overcome that inevitable feeling but it is going to take time and patience. Every time you want to be positive you just get it slammed back in your face. That is the difficulty of being a Pitt fan. Maybe I am a sucker but I will continue to support and be patient and hope the payoff is worth it in the end.

Comment by The Ghost of Billy Gaines 09.27.16 @ 9:37 am

But TT, that roster full of role players had the game in hand. Yes, Peterman missed some throws he should have made — man is he just a huge disappointment — but patience and role players have nothing to do with HCPN playing scared football that nearly cost his team the PSU game and clearly cost his team the UNC game. And the fact that he won’t own up to that is really concerning to me. I didn’t hear the press conference, but as far as I can tell, he has not taken any responsibility for the failure to adjust his defensive schemes to suit his personnel and for the scared offensive play calling that cost Pitt this game.

Yes, we have to have patience and, yes, there is a learning curve. And, no, not ready to kick PN to the curb, but to me the lack of accountability for his role in the 2 losses is really, really concerning.

Comment by Praise the Lard 09.27.16 @ 9:55 am

Alan Saunders of Pgh Sports Now reported that Damar Hamlin was a full participant at today’s practice…

Comment by Pap76 09.27.16 @ 10:25 am

TT, While I agree with your general premise, and have said that Narduzzi has to overcome 30 years of SOP, I don’t think it totally excuses the fourth quarter performance in the last three games. I don’t think you can lay that all on the kids and the fans.

Yes we need better players and a new mindset, but we were not playing top ten teams the last three weeks. Those teams players were not significantly better than ours. Certainly not for the first three quarters.

The fourth quarter is when coaching matters the most, and ours have come up woefully short.

I think the long term issues that you speak of are more problematic, because recruiting is the key. It has been and will always be difficult to get enough elite players to come here.

Great players make great coaches and not the reverse. Chryst is a perfect example, he is a much better coach now that he has enough very good players on both sides of the ball.

I think we can see that things may be getting better, but there are no guarantees. As a long term Pitt Fan, there has been way to much failure and disappointment to assume that the future will be better. Will Narduzzi stick around long enough and will the administrative commitment be lasting? History is certainly not on our side.

Is Narduzzi tough enough to overcome all this and really get it done? We all hope so, but it won’t be easy, or as you say a quick fix.

There are still 8 or 9 games left to be played, whether this team gets better or worse is on the coaches. There is no past or future, only now.

Comment by gc 09.27.16 @ 10:48 am

off topic but pretty interesting …
link to

Comment by wbb 09.27.16 @ 10:51 am

Praise – that’s good coaching keeping them in the game despite the void on defense … and there is talent on the offensive side of the ball … and Pitt is playing to their strengths on offense … but the cultural problem of expecting the worst creeps in at the end of big games.

Players, fans and coaches all expect Murphy’s Law to dictate the game outcome (whether it’s subconscious or not)… and it has. Pitt doesn’t believe they can do it yet. It’s PN’s job to fix it. That is a psychological problem as much as anything and is not an easy fix. And it permeates the entire program and extends out to the fans.

One thing PN has done well is beat the teams he’s supposed to beat. They’ve had a couple heavy weights on the ropes. People see this year’s games only and the heartache of the losses.

There is improvement though. Last year Pitt got whooped by the heavy weights on the schedule. This year Pitt has taken them to the wire. Next hurdle is to actually beat one. It’s learning how to do it though, which can take time. Especially with the state of the program currently.

Miami and Clemson loom. Two more opportunities this year to change the culture of the program … and then we try again next year.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.27.16 @ 11:00 am

Interesting tweet wbb, many guys really abused me when I suggested that might happen last year.

Comment by gc 09.27.16 @ 11:13 am

TT, so when we win or keep games close it is all due to good coaching. When we lose it is the players fault. Most of us are not talking about the overall offensive scheme. Frankly, it is working and scoring plenty of points. We are talking about HCPN making the decision to shut the offense down in our last few possessions. No motion, no sweeps, no throws past the line of scrimmage. Our last possession at UNC looked like we were a Pop Warner League team. There is no defense or explanation for it. One word sums up the play calling on that series: Pathetic!

Comment by HbgFrank 09.27.16 @ 11:32 am

HbgFrank – I addressed your concern in my earlier post.

“That’s hard to overcome. Whether it’s the coaches going conservative with play calling or the players not making plays. Make no mistake, Murphy’s Law is playing a role.

That drive at the end of the 1st half probably killed any shot at Pitt being aggressive in the 4th quarter. Pitt’s best player so far this season fumbling on the best play Pitt has been running all season … going for a big gain and a first down … to only fumble and give up a FG seconds later.”

It’s part of the team culture right now. PN is obviously struggling overcoming it and may have been influenced by it as well. He knew this going into the gig. It’s why there’s such an emphasis on the 4th qtr program. It’s why they all huddle and jump up and down at the end of the third. He’s trying to change the culture of fearing the 4th qtr to embracing it.

It hasn’t worked yet.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.27.16 @ 12:23 pm

I agree with most and have high hopes for Narduzzi, but at this point the hopes are predicated on him having humility and learning on the job, not on his current status/profile, because unfortunately he’s undeniably been turtling up each and every game. Even in the PSU game, we shut down the jet sweep in the fourth quarter, in Wannyesque fashion, almost costing us there. One thing is clear, the prevent offense in this day and age only prevents you from winning, just like the prevent defense used to do in pro football. Obviously, the last 3 teams in a row did not all of a sudden figure out how to shut down our more aggressive run calls in the 4th quarter, forcing us to stop running them, we simply stopped running them to favor ‘safe’ calls. And heaven forbid they use Henderson’s one fumble as an excuse to extend our turtling- without taking risk and giving him the ball, we’d be 1-3 right now. I will give the coaches some credit in the UNC game for bringing our passing game along a little further- I feel they need to continue to develop this a little more, if we want to crack the 100 passing attacks in the nation. Conservative mind set breeds conservative players, which breeds mediocrity at best. So my hope (and belief) is that Narduzzi’s tough persona will at some point be matched by a more aggressive offensive game plan, which is necessary these days. And one last thing, there is no way on this earth that I believe bringing in Hamlin and Coleman to start at corners (yes, both) would result in a worse pass defense. Are we going to drop from #124 in the nation to #125? We need talent/athleticism at the CB positions desperately, so why not?

Comment by 1618mt 09.27.16 @ 12:43 pm

TT, then I’ll post my response from the other thread again…..

The crux of the Pitt fan patience problem is the 35 year ongoing mantra “Wait until next year….or preferably the year after.”

We’re numb at this point…in a dazed mediocrity trance.

I like your theory about conservative coaching costing us those close games. Why do our coaches always think CFB is the NFL? That fumble against UNC was a killer though….win win if he doesn’t.

Agree 1618mt. An interesting note is Fraud Graham and his boys are #125.

As for the tweet….could it be that we finally have a coach willing to pound a round peg into a round hole and use freshman if they’re better than upper classmen?

Comment by Jackagain 09.27.16 @ 1:16 pm

Jackagain – every time we hire a new coach the last 35 years go out the window. It starts over every single time. And when you go through 4(5) coaches in 5 years there is no cohesiveness to the roster. It’s a mishmash of different players and styles those players were recruited to play.

There is nothing you can do. That is all on the Pitt administration. Pitt Chancellors decided to de-emphasize football in the early 80’s. Their successors followed suit. That is what set Pitt football back. No coach can just come in and done decades of neglect.

Whether you want to wait or not that’s your only option. To build a true program there has to be several years of continuity. Several years of recruits brought in to do the same things. There’s no magic wand you can waive.

PN inherited a team with no depth, a mishmash of talent and a damaged psyche. That’s why our best position group, the o-line, feels like it has no identity. That’s why the team has no identity yet.

When Chryst left, Pitt started over. Regardless of how well some think he did at stabilizing the program, by him leaving he set it back again.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.27.16 @ 1:56 pm

Disappointing Offensive Line Play and some BAD Play Calling are as much to blame for the last two Losses as the Defense.

It’s only that shortcomings with the Defense are so obvious and out in the OPEN for everyone to see.

Comment by PittofDreams 09.27.16 @ 2:06 pm

Yep, but it’s the defense Narduzzi keeps relying on to close out the games. How anyone who’s been around this sport as long as Narduzzi has be comfortable going into the 4th quarter with any kind of a lead with our pass defense.

Comment by jrnpitt 09.27.16 @ 2:51 pm

Must be 6-2 @ the end of October! H2P

Comment by DC33 09.27.16 @ 6:51 pm

Narduzzi is one Marshall LOSS away from losing the Fan Base except for the MOST ADDICTED Kool-Aid Drinkers.

Comment by PittofDreams 09.27.16 @ 8:13 pm

Jamel Artis of the 80 turnovers last yr. If he is the pg then we have no point guard.

Comment by alcofan 09.27.16 @ 8:45 pm

College Hoops Today Stallings interview.

link to

Comment by Jackagain 09.27.16 @ 9:10 pm

From the interview Stallings sounds like the Paul Chryst of college basketball , a good guy. I wish him well. One thing that struck me as strange was his reference to year 2 will be like starting all over with all the roster changes coming. Good programs reload all the time with no fall off. Hope mwe are not expected to wait 3 years for Stallings to produce.

Comment by Spindler's Spirit 09.28.16 @ 6:58 am

western michigan 4-0, (who has beat 2 b10 teams) wake forest 4-0, (who has beat a b10 and acc team) these programs have been more futile than pitt, but somehow, they can manage to win with what they have.

Comment by goalie44 09.28.16 @ 8:34 am

goalie44 – just when I think I’ve pulled myself up off the canvas, you find a way to knock me back down again.

Ok, if WF and WM can do it, why not Pitt. I think we are close – our pass D has really let us down – let’s see if the changes this week improve the product on the field.


Comment by Erie Express 09.28.16 @ 9:02 am

hahahaha wbb, that’s funny.

we shall see, but i’m a glass half empty guy.

Comment by goalie44 09.28.16 @ 10:42 am

PJ Fleck is in the 4th year at the program and is considered a future star. Dave Clawson is in year three at WF and went 3-9 his first two years. Narduzzi is 3 games into year 2.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.28.16 @ 11:47 am

Rome was not built in a day.We were a disaster 2 yrs back.WV is just this year playing competitive in the big 12 after how many years for Holgy 4? 5?.

Comment by Pitt60 09.28.16 @ 1:27 pm

Rome was not built in a day.We were a disaster 2 yrs back.WV is just this year playing competitive in the big 12 after how many years for Holgy 4? 5?.

Comment by Pitt60 09.28.16 @ 1:27 pm


one would think narduzzi would have a little more to work with right? wasn’t pn considered a future star? fleck will be considered for the lsu job.

Comment by goalie44 09.28.16 @ 2:27 pm

Look, the defense is a disaster. We hear the coach claim that “the best players are on the field” but what he really is saying is the “oldest players are on the field” like most, average, uncreative coaches in America that are mediocre–he values seniority over quality. There is no benefit in playing all JR’s and SRs if they are NOT any good. Remember the Houston Bowl game? Those players from Pitt, many of them are still here and still playing a significant role–and they stink. Last years meltdown in the final six games was terrible. This year, the PSU game, OSU and NC games were national disgraces. The fear of playing young players is a coaching weakness. Its the same old story. Pitt had its best recruting season in 25 years. PUT THOSE TALENTED YOUNG PLAYERS IN A POSITION TO WIN A GAME. And coach on offense like a daring, creative fearless aggressive leader that instills confidence. The offense mirrored the tone set by the coach. To hear PN talk about “We ran for 370 yards….” this and that is ridiculous. HE LOST THE GAME. What you did well and didn’t do well is nothing to brag about. WIN THE GAME. Its not about how much yards you run for in a game or how little the opposing team runs the ball. Its about winning the game. Its not all on the coaches–the players own it too, but by Golly, the coaches are setting the tone, the mood and the culture with the playcalling and the roster. Houston, Louisville, Central Michigan, Stanford, Texas A&M, NC seem to have figured out how to win. Lets GO. I care way too much about this.

Comment by TD 09.28.16 @ 2:44 pm

goalie – PN is in year 2. Fleck is in year 4 and he’s gone 8-5 the last two years playing in the MAC. 6-2 in conference last year. I’m not sure what you’re seeing that I’m not. He will not be a serious candidate for LSU. If he even gets an interview.

Pitt fans are so dramatic. We got a new coach last year. There will be growing pains for a few years.

PN didn’t inherit a Michigan or Ohio St. team loaded with talent or the name recognition to draw top 10 recruiting classed day 1. Nor does he have the resume to do it.

He inherited a Big East cast off and middling ACC team that had 3 consecutive years of 6-6.

Now, if you don’t like Narduzzi. That’s fine. Just say that then … But to compare PN to coaches who went 1-11, 8-5 or 3-9 the first couple of years and not give him the same benefit is just asinine.

TD – lol. Do Pitt fans even watch college football? It’s not how it works. These teams you mention were not good overnight.

You fall into the same trap as everyone else. Houston – yes. Great job. Can’t argue that. But it’s a program in the top 20 for wins the last 20 years. They usually are good. 11-1 as recently as 2011.

*Bobby Petrino’s return to L’ville = 9-4 and 8-5
*Central Michigan = 7-6 last year. I’m sure you meant PJ Fleck at W. Michigan and he’s been 8-5 the last 2 years and in year 4 of the program.
*Stanford/Harbaugh = 4-8, 5-7, 8-5, 12-1 (year 4)
*Texas A&M/Sumlin = 11-2, 9-4, 8-5, 8-5
*UNC/Fedora = 8-4, 7-6, 6-7, 11-3 (year 4)

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.28.16 @ 6:37 pm

Agreed TT, I definitely think there are growing pains. I really like the DUZZ and I am fan, however as a fan I think that it’s ok for constructive criticism. I believe his defensive scheme will work but you need the horses and if you don’t have them then what’s plan B? where are the adjustments? Offensively everything has been great except in critical moments, our obvious failures in the 4th qtr. When you are predictable and one dimensional you make it easy for your opponents.

Where’s that fake punt like last year against Syr? Where are the quick slants, WR/TE screens, etc… He showed it last year and I believe he has what it takes to be a great coach but he needs to be flexible and show the ability to make the necessary adjustments. Three defensive time outs with more than 5min left in the game! I’ve never seen anything like that in my life! I’m very frustrated like everyone else, you are correct we have growing pains and need patients. With all that said I believe in the DUZZ!

Comment by PTG 09.28.16 @ 10:55 pm

PTG – that stuff is fine. I agree with Chas’ critique as well. It’s the doom and gloom fan base that doesn’t understand you don’t just become good because of the coach. It takes 4 years generally. Even for the greats. I believe all that stuff is just growing pains. A new coach learning on the job. Some may not and that’s fine but don’t use asinine arguments like if this school has done why can’t we and then reference a school that took 4 years to build. SMH.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.29.16 @ 8:08 am

you may think those arguments are asinine, but others don’t. keep settling.

Comment by goalie44 09.29.16 @ 3:47 pm

No settling. You and TD (and others) have compared PN to coaches and schools that also didn’t win right away while claiming that they did. That’s asinine.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.29.16 @ 4:24 pm

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