October 23, 2017

Anything But Pretty, But…

Filed under: Football — Chas @ 5:24 pm

…it was a win.

There were points during the Pitt-Duke game that felt like literal hate-watching. Not simply the offense just making me angry and frustrated. It was the coaching. The decision-making. It really was the first game in Pat Narduzzi’s tenure that really pissed me off from the POV of  “what the hell are they thinking?”

It was a game, that Pitt could have lost (some might argue should have). I’m sure all five Duke football fans feel the same, though, it’s not like Duke did much more to say they “should have” won.

Let’s get the props out first.

Darrin Hall. Three tremendous runs, 2 for touchdowns, and some solid running all day for 336 total yards on the ground.

Hall had 110 yards by the end of the first half. He popped a 79-yard touchdown run at 7:23 in the first quarter to put Pitt up 7-0. He was just getting warmed up.

Hall hadn’t run for more than 52 yards in a game this season and had only 108 before Saturday.

“A lot of the games I was barely in, but I always practiced hard and I knew when my time was up I had to make plays,” Hall said.

No one on the Pitt side was surprised when Hall did just that Saturday.

“He’s the nicest kid in the world,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. “He doesn’t say a word, just every day he goes out and works. He’s not a high-maintenance guy. He’s a low-maintenance (guy), as low as you get.”

This has felt a long time coming for Hall. He was a 4-star running back recruit. He’s never seemed to get a big chance. Constantly rotated in and out. His freshman year, saw James Conner go down. But Quadree Ollison passed him on the depth chart and had a big year. Last year, Conner returned. And this year, he has been used inconsistently to be kind. At the same time, he had done nothing that ever stood out to make fans 0r the coaches say, “he should be the guy.”

Through it all, he has been as Narduzzi says, “low-maintenance.” No complaints. Not transfer threats or rumors. Never seemed to worry about the depth chart even when he was seemingly off of it last year and at points this year. He’s one of those kids you have to be happy for, and glad is on your team. At your school.

Hall also earned one of the plethora of ACC weekly honors as “ACC Back of the Week.

The defense also showed up. Yes, Duke has been a disappearing offense in ACC play, but they had been able to run the ball effectively. Pitt shut them down. They also had the passing game under control until Avonte Maddox left the game with an arm injury.

A painful reminder both of how thin the secondary still is, and how underrated (and underappreciated) Maddox has been this year and for most of his career at Pitt. Much of it has to do with being put out on the best receiver even as an underclassman, simply because of how thin the secondary is. To say nothing of how the game has changed and DBs are at such a disadvantage. Especially one, like Maddox, who doesn’t have the size to match up with the big receivers.

In fact, the advantage of the big receivers and how the game has changed was a factor in Pitt’s win. Jester Weah’s, well, it was called a catch.

DiNucci’s biggest play, and perhaps the most crucial in the game, was his 49-yard toss to Jester Weah midway through the fourth quarter that set up Hall’s decisive touchdown. It looked like Duke cornerback Mark Gilbert, nephew of former Pitt star Sean Gilbert, had an interception, but the officials ruled Weah also had his hands on it. Weah’s grasp looked tenuous at best, but by rule, possession goes to the offensive player, and the call stood up on review.

“Yeah, that’s why I didn’t want to let go or get up,” Weah said. “I’m a pretty big receiver. Once I caught the ball, everybody knew it was a caught ball.”

As I said after Pitt got the call. It was a call that in a vacuum, seemed to me to be incorrect. It looked like Gilbert had the ball and Weah just put his hand in there. But Pitt’s had plenty of bad calls, and occasionally even Duke doesn’t get a call from ACC refs. At least in football.

Still, there was plenty to agonize over. Especially at QB, where Ben DiNucci — to be kind — struggled. I mean to the point, where after the game, Narduzzi went Wannstedt in trying to praise him.

“You take it off of Ben DiNucci’s shoulders,” Narduzzi said afterward. “Ben had a heck of a good game, did some good things in his decision-making and the run game.”

DiNucci was far from sharp, throwing for just 149 yards on 8-for-18 passing and taking three sacks, but it was a different statistic that seemed to matter most to Narduzzi. Zero, as in zero interceptions and zero lost fumbles for a grand total of zero turnovers, which had been DiNucci’s primary weakness in the eyes of the coaching staff.

Of course, as with most any performance, there were negatives. DiNucci admittedly was inaccurate at times, especially in the first half, when he didn’t complete a pass until his fourth snap of the second quarter. A few times, he tucked and ran but slid at the end of the play, avoiding a hit but also a first-down conversion in the process. Narduzzi indicated he had spoken with DiNucci about trying to protect himself, but now he’ll have to tell him to make sure he doesn’t do so at the expense of valuable yardage.

“He won’t be as conservative, I promise you that, the next game,” said Narduzzi, who also thought DiNucci had a chance to throw the ball away and dodge a sack once or twice more than he did.

But other than that, DiNucci managed the game, and he managed a win, one the Panthers sorely needed. Nearly half his passing yards came on two long completions to Jester Weah on the drive that set up Darrin Hall’s winning touchdown, with the second a controversial call that perhaps should’ve been ruled an interception for Duke.

When you are stressing game management, it just makes me twitch.

And here’s where you start to wonder what the plan is at QB. Or, to be more accurate, wondering why the hell they don’t have a plan?

Last week, Pitt put Pickett in in the 3d quarter because they never quite got around to getting him into the game in the first half. After talking about making sure he would get some work and that Pickett’s redshirt wasn’t a hasty waste, he never sees the field in a game where DiNucci struggled far more and looked much worse then he did the previous week.

And after the game when asked about why Pickett wasn’t given any work Narduzzi went on defense.

Narduzzi used freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett briefly in the second half of last week’s home loss to N.C. State. Pickett didn’t play Saturday.

“There was no reason to,” Narduzzi said.

Again, 8-18, 149 yards. Prior to the start of the 4th quarter, his stat line was 6-15, 75 yards.

There was every reason to pull DiNucci. I know Pitt pulled out the win, but DiNucci was not the reason. He looked horrid. He looked afraid to run at times. And basically, Narduzzi decided he wasn’t going to be pulled unless he committed a turnover.

Again, no plan to work Pickett into a series. Only to react afterwards to a mistake.

Ah, well. On to Virginia.

The staff may have taken away Da Nucch’s best asset: his fearlessness. That fiasco against State has him looking over his shoulder now – too afraid of making mistakes. Reminded me of Max Browne.

Comment by 2$Chuck 10.23.17 @ 7:44 pm

Dinucci has started how many D1 college games? Oh yea, that would be ONE.

Comment by grizzly1 10.23.17 @ 9:08 pm

A year of eligibility was wasted by a head coach who needs all the talent you can get. There was no way PICKETT should have been used. Now he only has 3 years if he plays next year. This coach does not know how to handle his assets. He should win the next two games with ease and if we are far enough ahead you will see Pickett on clean up duty. Pitt will have no chance with Virginia Tech or Miami, both of those games will be runaways. You will see Pickett again during both of those games, coach will relay upon him to be a “spark” in place of DiNucci, you know with the game already lost, place Pickett in for a miracle. Thank God these kids wont be forced to practice for a meaningless bowl game this year. The best thing that can happen is to close it out with the Miami game. These kids will not be any mood to carry on this farce for another couple of weeks for bowl game preps.
I have said this many times before , the recruiting must improve if Pitt is to start to become competitive again. The young team bullshit is not a valid excuse anymore. I believe the Penn State offensive line only has 1 senior and 1 or 2 year starters and look how well they block and open holes up.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 10.24.17 @ 3:15 am

The Pitt administration will not do anything to the Duzzi this year, there will be a ceremonial vote of confidence by the AD and Chancellor most likely at a news conference etc.
The non conference schedule will be brutal again with loses of Penn State, Notre Dame and perhaps UCF, a team ranked this year. At the end of next year a new coach will be in place, most likely an offensive coordinator from a winning school with brains and the ability to speak in complete sentences.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 10.24.17 @ 3:24 am

Weah caught the ball with 2 hands. The defender pulled the ball away, but Weah’s left hand stayed on the ball. On the ground Weah put his right hand on the ball. To me that sounds like they both had control.

Comment by Caw Miller 10.24.17 @ 2:05 pm

Talented QB’s won’t come here is lesser QB’s play. Do Nuch has little upside apparently. Give Pickett a chance

Comment by DocJlk 10.24.17 @ 5:51 pm

Caw – exactly. The defender certainly had more possession at the end of the play but Weah had never relinquished possession completely, keeping one paw on the ball the entire time thru the process. And you’re right, he caught the ball with both hands originally.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 10.24.17 @ 7:44 pm

Yep. If I watch that 49 yard pass with my blue and gold glasses on it looks like a catch by Weah every single time. It’s Weah who has both hands securely around the ball from the time the ball hits his hands to the point where his feet touch the ground and his body rolls down. The defender reaches in and tries to pry it away.

If only all the media (including Pitt FB beat writer for PG and the TV play by play team) covering the game would wear blue and gold glasses.

I don’t think contact demonstrates possession. If it does in the current rule book, it needs to be changed.

Likewise my glasses make it appear that Zeise makes a clean pass defense on the Whitehead interception to kill the final Duke drive.

I guess Cutcliffe turned the two plays in question over to the ACC Director of Officiating. Should be interesting but unrewarding for him.

Just to be clear the simultaneous possession question is non-reviewable. The play was reviewed to determine whether or not the pass was incomplete. The ball clearly never touched the ground, thus a completion. The ruling on the field was a catch and awarded to Pitt. There was nothing to be done once it was ruled complete.

The Pitt fan take would be interesting if Duke had won the game on the basis of having benefited from those two calls (or non-calls).

Comment by Barvo 10.25.17 @ 10:39 am

Barvo – Just a fluke play. Because Weah’s hand was still on the ball and never left it, it stays simultaneous. In the real world it’s an interception but just look at the NFL catch rule. Real catches and NFL catches are two different things. Same case here.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 10.25.17 @ 11:19 am

Good summary Chas — Dinucci played better vs. NCState yet stays in for Duke after showing very poorly. Seems to me someone got in Narduzzi’s ear about keeping him in — sad, but not unprecedented. How many crap games did Tino put out and yet he was the untouchable golden child, under three different coaches?!

This is why Pitt will never be in the top ten until they root out this regressive, gutless, semi-corrupt thinking that has marred the program since Jackie Sherril left the building.

Comment by Matt N. 10.25.17 @ 1:54 pm

It most certainly was a catch. Without the “simultaneous” rule we would have never-ending cluster flops over who had “most of the ball when the play is over”.

Comment by 2$Chuck 10.25.17 @ 8:29 pm

Good point, the play was not reviewable and the ref made the wrong call. Weah lost control of the ball before he fell to the ground. Placing a hand on the ball is not control, the defensive player clearly had control. We got away with one here folks.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 10.26.17 @ 1:37 am

Pitt benefitted by the Weah phantom catch and the Zeise hold … but still no guarantee they lose if the calls went against them. Of course the 2nd call wouldn’t have occurred if the 1st played was called correctly. (hey, I thought I saw a hold on their long punt return early in 4th quarter)

Fact is that after a productive 3rd quarter, Duke had their chances in the 4th quarter but failed to score despite moving the ball. They also lucked out by underthrowing a pass on 4th and 23 .. but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Comment by wbb 10.26.17 @ 6:50 am

Chas, any thoughts about Peace Illegomeh’s eligibility? Here is a kid who attended both a Catholic school and a prep school in the US, and I assumed got some type of diploma, but was declared ineligible by the NCAA Clearing Committee.

Duke just had a high school basketball player who attended 4 different high schools (a la Paris Ford) and was cleared within 2 weeks after his committal.

I wonder if this Illogomeh ruling had something to do with Pitt playing hardball with giving up Cam Johnson to UNC. Yes, UNC is that powerful.

I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature unless it involves the NCAA (or the NFL).

Comment by wbb 10.26.17 @ 6:59 am

Last week, I was on the right side of the predictions saying that Pitt was “due to have a game where the breaks go their way.”

And that’s the way it was up until the VERY END when Pitt got away with a “No-Call” Pass Interference that would have given Duke a First Down with a TD just yards away.

This week I sense a little OVER-confidence… no make that A LOT… on the part of Narduzzi and his Staff which undoubtedly can spread like a contagious disease among the Players.

Be careful Narduzzi. This Virginia Team is AT LEAST as good as yours… and BETTER coached.

Comment by PittofDreams 10.26.17 @ 10:34 am

Add ACC officiating to conspiracy wbb. When looked at in total, “even stephen” calls are ok till Pitt plays the “old ACC” teams. Then the shit flies. Pitt was held so bad and so often against G.Tech and NC State the officials were probably told to throw one Pitt’s way with Duke. Also tell me is it my imagination or do the refs all speak with a North Carolina accent. Added comment. Without better recruiting Pitt fails. Hate to watch great plays by young players that State beat Pitt for in recruiting like Sherrife Miller, Miles Sanders, Troy Apke and others.If Pitt can’t fund a competitive D1 program with quality D1 coaches then step down a division and play at the level you will finance.

Comment by Pitt60 10.26.17 @ 10:47 am

After 2 games I predicted a 2/10 season then I watched our opponents and figured it should be 4/8. Right now I am with PittofDreams. Va. is a tossup. Pitt should win at home. But will they???

Comment by Pitt60 10.26.17 @ 10:56 am

Pitt60, I agree about ACC officiating. Last year’s game vs Va Tech was an absolute farce.

PoD, you mean like the over-confidence Pitt had in 2014 when they hosted Akron?

Comment by wbb 10.26.17 @ 12:07 pm

an oh yea, that 2014 Pitt team did also lose to UVa … a UVa team that finished 5-7 (3-5 in the ACC)

Comment by wbb 10.26.17 @ 12:19 pm

Watson will run Hall right up the middle on first down 3-4 times in the first half and UVA will have 20 guys waiting for him there to stuff it, then force Dinucci into obvious passing situations where he will likely throw poorly and/or get hammered…Pitt will flail in the first half and likely be down 10 at halftime, if we’re lucky. How’s that for positive vibing?!

He makes the switch to Pickett at halftime, but unless Watson’s stone-age playcalling changes, Pickett will be in the same bind — but he seems to throw a better ball and be a bit more poised, so it may look slightly better. Can we all chip in to buy out Watson’s contract now and send him home?

Comment by Matt N. 10.26.17 @ 2:21 pm

If Pitt could have thrown on first down at the beginning of games at least 40% of the time, before they were down 2-3 scores, and then mix in the run in a less predictable fashion — and stuck with that — I bet we are at least 5-3 or even 6-2 now…we have the talent and hardworking kids, just stupid coaches.

Comment by Matt N. 10.26.17 @ 2:25 pm

Remember folks, it all depends upon when they play sweet caroline. That will be the most important strategic decision of the game. The AD has a hot line to the public address person and when she feels it will be most advantages she pushes a button. Hope she picks the right time to hit the button.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 10.26.17 @ 3:22 pm

Looks like rain on Saturday, sloppy game, more passes.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 10.26.17 @ 3:24 pm

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