Here is a thoughtful piece written by Jay “6 & 34″…
Here we are and Pitt is on top of the ACC Coastal Division. This improbable circumstance seemed unimaginable after the North Carolina loss. I took that loss hard. I actually decided to not watch another game this season and just stopped cold turkey my fascination with Pitt football. I know this may seem contemptible to many POVers but in my world there are only three social constructs that I care about without reservation and one of them is America, another is my family and the third is not the University of Pittsbugh. Just whom I am.
The North Carolina game just convinced me that Pat Narduzzi did not know what he is doing. I was on the fence going into that game as the totality of the competing comments from POVers and my own personal observations of the team and the myriad other sources of Pitt football information led me to believe that once Pitt had the North Carolina game notched in, maybe (just maybe) Pitt was on its way to a successful season. The Georgia Tech victory had been a shot in the arm but the North Carolina game, my lord, the North Carolina game sucked.
I was so forlorn over this football team and how it was affecting my overall happiness that knew I had to ask myself these simple questions: Why do I need Pitt mediocrity in my life? Why do I need to continue to suffer for at least another year while Pat Narduzzi remains as head coach of Pitt’s football team. My answer to myself was “I didn’t.
That answer was a revelation. I was done. I was free from mediocrity.
I stayed away from the POV and Panther-Lair and did not watch the UCF and Syracuse games or pay attention to the game results as they progressed. I was so impressed with my will power. I was in control of my life and it felt good to be honest. OK, then when I saw that Pitt beat Syracuse in overtime, I said to myself, let’s watch the Syracuse game on “Replay”. You know what? It was awesome. Better than watching it live I convinced myself. No tension, no anxiety, just pleasure in watching Pitt pull out an overtime victory. Actually, it was so good that I told myself that I would watch the Notre Dame game the same way.
But as each day passed my desire for no emotional disappointment weakened by the rationale that I expected Pitt to lose so why not watch – there would be no major disappointment because this Pitt team could not win anyway.
Man, that Notre Dame game was fun. Yes, it was disappointing but in a critically different way than this year’s other losses. Still, I told myself, I will watch the Duke game on Replay if Pitt wins – so I can get all of the pleasure and none of the pain. But as each day passed I began to think of those white rabbits in Watership Down and besides, maybe Pitt’s defense had found itself in that Notre Dame game because it sure looked like it for 55 minutes.
So I watch live both the Duke and Virginia games and of course I sure wish I had been to both of them instead of watching them with my wife (a Pitt alumna) in Upstate New York on ESPN2. Do I wish I had not dropped out and hung in there supporting my team. Nope – I have no room in the rest of my life for Pitt mediocrity.
But here we are: On top of the Coastal Conference. Beat Virginia Tech and Wake Forest and we are the ….
And yet, we are 5 and 4 with a defense that in the Duke game was as bad as it’s ever been. And I have a confession to make. I really believed in the defense. For goodness sake, I believed in the secondary. Why, I really can’t say, not intelligently anyway. Whose fault is it that the defense has been as bad as it has been for these past several years? At this point I don’t see how I can’t blame Pat Narduzzi.
But is that the end of the matter?
Reading the POV I see a definite change in the attitude of the commentators. It’s not like the Negativos have disappeared or that the Positivos have emerged victorious. It’s like the question is no longer “Does Pat Narduzzi know what he is doing” because it’s been replaced with the idea that Pitt can win the Coastal even if he does not.
Look, winning the Coastal would be awesome. I want that to happen first and foremost for the student athletes on the team. It will help recruiting and definitely not cause recruiting to degrade even further which if Pitt went 4 and 8 or worse would have been a definite possibility (right, Mr. Koontz). And I want it to happen for the POVers who go to the games whom I both respect and admire whether the team does well or not.
But it’s not that important to me.
What I care about is whether or not Pat Narduzzi knows what he is doing. Why? Because if he does not, Pitt is going to be mediocre for the next 4 or 5 years whether it wins the Coastal or not and I will say goodbye to Pitt football until they are no longer mediocre which could be well past my time on Earth. And if he does know what he is doing, Pitt can win 8 or more games most years and be a top 25 team most years despite the systemic problems that presently confront Pitt football.
So, does he?
Of course we still don’t know. How could we with the defensive performance of the Duke game. Or our anemic passing game all season? Sure, we are optimistic about the Virginia Tech game and we have a right to be but I can’t get the North Carolina game out of my mind or Pitt’s defensive performance against Duke.
Still, something has happened that has me very encouraged. Pitt has an identity — an identity that I love. Pitt is now a smash mouth offensive team to be feared and I mean physically feared. And not feared because they are goons but because they are Pittsburgh strong.
And that identity is entirely consistent with Pat Narduzzi and how the rest of America views the City of Pittsburgh even if it is a meme that is 40 years behind the times. I expect the media to run with this and it will have legs if Pitt can win this Saturday especially I they win the way they have been winning. And if Virginia Tech sustains defensive injuries the way Virginia did, watch out because what we are now witnessing is defensive units fearing individual plays not because they fear V’lique breaking a 40 yard run but because it’s no fun going up against that Pitt smash mouth offensive unit.
Pat Narduzzi built that.
He made it clear to Big Q that no matter what success he had in his redshirt freshman year, that it wasn’t about him, it was about the Team (OK, so that sentence is entirely imaginary because I really have no idea why PN treated him the way he did). He also always nurtured and praised Darrin Hall – almost to the point where I thought that the Youngstown connection was reason for the bromance. Hey, everyone, PN was right about Hall. He is much, much better than most if not all of us thought.
Then there is the offensive line. The unit that so few thought was worthy of playing in the ACC. Even with its gaping limitations on passing plays, the offensive line has been the story of the year for Pitt football though I think most of us POVers know that statement bears a huge asterisk because we POVers know that the heart and soul of Pitt’s run game is George Aston.
Yes, we have an offensive line that is doing its job on running plays but if The Animal wasn’t there we would not be talking smash mouth and Darrin Hall would not have had 200 plus yards against Virginia. And yes, we have two bruising, interchangeable tailbacks who are better than we thought they were, but still, no George Aston, I don’t know what we would have.
(Speaking of these tailbacks, why can’t V’lique Carter get snaps at tailback and run up the middle in a hole excavated by Mr. Aston or on a conventional sweep? I’m not saying he should be our feature back but there is no reason that I can see why he can’t line up at tailback as a change of pace back. Can Watson see this? Really, why must he run solely from a jet sweep alignment?)
The bottom line is that Pitt’s offense is a well-conceived and defined, successful operation that is molded in the image of Pat Narduzzi. Sure, George Aston as a walk-on was a gift to him from the All Mighty but that does not change that the fact that PN built the line and running backs and conceived and implemented Aston’s role. And sure, the passing game is historically abysmal and that too is on PN but much of its awfulness is a direct result of smash mouth success.
HowSpeaking of these tailbacks, why can’t V’lique Carter get snaps at tailback and run up the middle in a hole excavated by Mr. Aston or on a conventional sweep? I’m not saying he should be our feature back but there is no reason that I can see why he can’t line up at tailback as a change of pace back. Can Watson see this? Really, why must he run solely from a jet sweep alignment?)
The bottom line is that Pitt’s offense is a well-conceived and defined, successful operation that is molded in the image of Pat Narduzzi. Sure, George Aston as a walk-on was a gift to him from the All Mighty but that does not change that the fact that PN built the line and running backs and conceived and implemented Aston’s role. And sure, the passing game is historically abysmal and that too is on PN but much of its awfulness is a direct result of smash mouth success. How much is attributable to the OC and HC’s decision to forgo the passing game, what difference does it make? Now if we asked this different question: “How much is attributable to our wide receivers, or lack of a pass catching tight end or our offensive line or our QB?” my answer would be I don’t have an algorithm to help answer that question and without that algorithm, it’s just too darn complicated.
What about the defense? The fact is that Pitt’s defense has held two of the last three teams it played to less than 20 points and one of those teams is Notre Dame. I recall watching the 2015 game and thinking how much faster Notre Dame was than Pitt. I didn’t perceive that difference in team speed this year. I know the criticism of Pitt’s recruiting these past few years (and this year’s recruiting has me really concerned) but I’m not one who gets hung up on ratings (see UCF) and I see an awful lot of really good athletes on this Pitt team.
I also see a lot of defensive mental mistakes. Are those mistakes due to bad coaching, players’ mental mistakes or players that just are not good enough? Today, I need another algorithm for that but by day’s end this Saturday, maybe we will know the answer to the question or perhaps the answer won’t be important anymore because we will conclude that the defense just stinks or is actually quite good. At least I think it is amazing that the previous sentence is actually true?
I’d like to write another thousand words analyzing whether Pat Narduzzii knows what he is doing but the truth is that today at this moment I have no idea. I will just throw out this somewhat random comment that in my humble opinion the decision to go for a first down was laughably stupid and does not speak well of the person who made that decision. I don’t care that it worked. That safety mistake on that long touchdown pass to Jana – I have seen that happen just too many times to not be concerned that the blame should be borne at least in part by a coach. And the defense in the Duke game? I have not forgotten that yet.
Lastly, I have been a harsh critic of OC Watson all year. But let’s give credit where it’s due. He called a good game Saturday. Darn good. And he is Pat Narduzzi’s man, so there is that.
Yes, winning the ACC Coastal will be fun but if Pitt does it by beating Virginia Tech and then having Miami or Wake Forest score a zillion points, I still won’t know if Pat Narduzzi knows what he is doing.