Chris Peak and I just had a short conversation regarding his “Six Questions for Narduzzi” podcast he did the other day and that I also based an article around. I thought that was a novel approach to the subject-dredging that has to be done by anyone covering Pitt football during the off-season.
As I was drinking my coffee this morning I thought about your comments to that post, and the replies Chris had on the Rivals’ message boards, and wonder which questions would I ask Pat Narduzzi regarding last season and how it all shook out.
So – thus sprung another article. Here goes; if I was sitting at the bar and Narduzzi walked in and sat next to me what six questions would I ask him to answer as honestly as possible?
Here are mine, you tell us yours in the comments:
1. What single thing do you think you most positively changed about the Pitt football program in your first year at Pitt and how will you make sure that carries over into 2016?
Narduzzi may not be the best judge of any actual changes as he wasn’t here in 2015. However you can be sure that people have been slapping him on the back and talking to him about the positive changes everyone else saw happen.
We talk a lot about the new energy and excitement He brought with him but here is what I saw as the biggest difference between the two years… the HC and staff holding players strictly accountable for what they actually did in uniform in the camps and in the games.
Sitting down an incumbent starter at QB isn’t a common move in college football yet Narduzzi did it without hesitation when he saw Voytik was failing in his role as the starter in the first two games.
He did the same with inserting Jordan Whitehead in at safety after a few games – although that was a case of inserting a kid who had superstar written all over him. Kind of a no-brainer. “Superstar” was not something that was written over the QB replacement Nate Peterman at all.
He’ll do more of that this season now that his first recruiting class has been at Pitt a full year and he knows what they can and can’t do. Something that happens a lot with HCs is if an upperclassman recruited by someone else and a underclassman recruited by him are of equal value at a position you see that young kid get the nod. We may see that a bunch as this season progresses, especially if we start losing games early on.
2. Do you feel that you were able to get the maximum effort out of your players in every game and if not, why not?
To me you have to look at the latter half of the season, from the NC loss through the Navy Bowl loss and feel very concerned. At that point we stood at 6-1 overall and the season looked like it was going to be magical. Then reality showed up and with the exception of two games against lesser ACC opponents, we fell flat on our face.
What happened was the late season swoon where we finished off the season with a crap laden 2-4 record including an ass-whooping defeat by Navy in the bowl game. After a run of play by the new starting QB, Peterman he went into NC and played an average ballgame. However the next game against ND he played his worse game to that date.
Even though he passed for a decent 223 yards against the Tarheels he also completed only 38% of his passes with just 1 TD and an INT. His 103 QB rating in that match was a portent of the end of the season’s games against Miami and Navy. With an exception…
But Peterman bounced back from that ND loss with two of the best consecutive games we have seen a QB play in a long time. In those two wins he went 35/59 (60%) for 412 yards, 7 TDs and 0 INTs with those TD points being the winning margins in both games.
Then he did basically nothing in the last two games with his performance in the bowl game being as uninspired I’ve seen a QB play in some while (since Sunseri against WVU a few years back). Then again the whole team looked like they were sleepwalking through that game, especially in the first half.
I think a big part of the terrible ending to the season was the staff failing to get the team prepared to face two good opponents.
Miami wasn’t world beaters but they had a winning record and had we been able to leave Heinz Field that day with a 7th ACC win and the second best record in the conference. Instead Miami scored early and often to the tune of 23-3 at halftime, seven of those points were the result of a turnover, and it was too little too late in the 2nd half.
Bottom line: the players were not ready to play in both those late season losses at all. I do also wonder if Peterman didn’t get an inflated head a bit after his two very good games before facing Miami and Navy – it seemed that early INT against Miami which gave the Hurricanes a quick lead generated some strong self-doubt on his part.
3. Why did some players who had done well in 2014 seem to disappear?
On defense three players in particular looked to be in good shape to land and keep starting jobs in 2015. rsJR LB Bam Bradley, SO DE Rori Blair and S Reggie Mitchell all were in the conversation to be starters and possible breakout players in ’15. But, aside from Mitchell’s injury that shortened his season, those players seemed to get constant playing time early on then were pushed and replaced by others.
I though Bradley would be the solid starter all season and really produce, but OLB Mike Caprara and OLB Nick Grigsby’s good and constant play kept that happening. Bradley will be a SR this season and it will be interesting to see if he gets any substantial playing time at all with rsFR Saleem Brightwell and rsFR Anthony McKee shedding their redshirts and being ready to go.
(Note: Both McKee and Brightwell used last year to bulk up in the weight room – Brightwell went from 195 lbs to 210 and McKee gained 10 pounds to get to 210 also.)
We saw other 2015 starters get replaced and then just fade away – QB Chad Voytik and S Pat Amara in particular and that resulted in both leaving the team to transfer as soon as the season ended.
Which makes me wonder which ’16 starters we will watch play this season do the same – fade (or be faded) away to become a footnote after this year.
4. What single aspect of the season displeased you the most? Was it an on-field game day problem… off the field problem?
Aside from our two players, Tyler Boyd and Rori Blair, who had off the field disciplinary issues, there didn’t seem to be many peripheral issues that would detract from the season itself. Even the training camp and one game suspensions awarded those two by Narduzzi had small impact on the team’s play when they weren’t out there.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any – it may well be that we fans and the media just weren’t aware of them. College football fans like to believe everything is always hunky-dory in their school’s locker room and clubhouse but that is rarely the case.
The good staffs make sure whatever problems there are, big or small, don’t grow to become public issues. Either way it is refreshing to go through almost a whole year (to now) without any other instances of misbehavior or criminal acts. Good for you Pat!
But again – I would think the late season crash and burn had to be the biggest disappointment for the HC.
5. On the day after the Navy bowl game what one single most important issue came to mind when thinking about changes had to be made for the 2016 season?
The first thing that comes to mind is the most obvious and that was the change of Offensive Coordinator. On Dec 12th, two weeks after the drubbing Pitt got at the hands of the Naval Academy Midshipmen, Jim Chaney announced his intention to leave Pitt.
While the offense did reasonably well over all especially considering we lost star RB James Conner in the first game, there really wasn’t any feeling, at least among the fans that I can remember, that our offense was capable of just taking over a game and winning it on a regular basis.
The exception to that was the Louisville game at Heinz Filed where we posted 45 points against a ACC opponent on the strength of Peterman’s four TD passes in a 35 point second quarter.
But we are going to see some changes in the offense – most notably an opening up of the deep routes that Chaney hardly ever called. We’ll see multiple WR sets, the use of the Slot receiver more and an uptick in passing swings out of the backfield to Ibrahim and Conner.
6. Which are the three most important games for us to win in 2016?
Narduzzi’s answer may differ from us fans’ answers. We have circled the Sept. 10th Penn State at Heinz Field as the ‘absolutely must win’ game of the season. I’ve even read some fans state that they wouldn’t care if we went 1-11 as long as we beat PSU… and they weren’t kidding.
As Pitt’s Head Coach Narduzzi has to have his eye on a championship above all else and that means winning as many conference games as possible. I believe, and I’m speculating here, that if we are in the hunt for the Coastal Championship spot Narduzzi would trade a PSU win for an ACC win without hesitation. I know that I would.
So I look at those two tough ACC away games in North Carolina on Sept 24th and then later in the season the Clemson game on Nov 12th. Regardless of any other games we win – and we will win other games – if Narduzzi can get W’s in those games we need not worry if he can ‘win the big ones’ going forward.
I get the emotional, sentimental and even the possible recruiting aspects of the PSU game. Although I’m skeptical that one game against our rivals will determine who gets which recruits in the state of PA. If we get 9-10 wins on the season and lose that game our recruiting will still be very strong in the immediate future.
6.A. Here you are making $2,000,000 and change and you can’t buy me a drink? What’s up with that?
Go screw yourself Kohberger.