Editor’s note: This was not originally supposed to say “Pay Narduzzi Presser”. It was supposed to say “Pat Narduzzi Presser” but my phone auto-corrected to “Pay”. clearly he deserves no additional pay at this point. This has been updated. My apologies for any confusion.
PAT NARDUZZI: We’ll get started here. Obviously not what we planned from the opener. Disappointing start to the season. Obviously it was a different opener than most. Probably playing some of the opponents we’ve played in the past, you might squeak out with a victory, but not against a good ACC opponent that we didn’t get it done.
But we closed the book last night with our kids in here, and when you go back and look at the tape and reevaluate it, I feel really no different than what I felt Saturday night at midnight or whatever time that was.
Really when you look at it, it’s a lot of self-inflicted wounds as far as what we did, not what they did. You don’t look at it and go ‘Wow, we just got overplayed or outmatched.’ It was just carelessness I would say on our part, just details that you fail to get done, whether it’s on the sideline and getting it out there on the field, whatever it may be. Just details.
Again, it started from the coin toss. We lose the coin toss, they get it, whatever, we get pinned down inside, and we go three-and-out, and it just started the field position, which we lost by 222 yards, field position. And again, we never gained it back. Their average field position I think was the 41, ours was the 22 or something like that. We lost it by 222 yards. We’ve only lost it one time in my time here, and it was 225 at one point.
You know, hard to win the game when you lose a field position by that. Three-and-outs, way too many on offense, didn’t get enough on defense. That contributes, obviously, to the field position. Turnovers, whether it was a blocked punt or an interception, those caused problems there, or turnover on downs. Their three touchdown drives were 19 yards — they scored three touchdowns: 19 yards, 27 yards, 29 yards. That’s their touchdown drives. We’d love to have that field position, but we weren’t afforded — our two touchdown drives were 85 plus. So when you look at keeping a drive going — again, I don’t want to say that’s a gift; I give them credit. But that’s kind of what it was.
But it comes down to the details. Guys making plays on the ball, whether it’s on offense or defense. We dropped some passes, obviously, that are critical, a couple on 3rd down that moved the sticks and changes the whole part of the game.
We don’t make plays on the ball when I think we can in good coverage with some PI calls, turn around, get your eyes on the ball, tackles, decision making, all those details.
So I think that all plays a part of what really we got, and we got what we asked for on Saturday.
But it’s a learning experience. We’ve got a lot of new guys out there playing for the first time. When you look at your O-line and the two guys that have played before played good. The other guys that didn’t have starts before played like you maybe thought they might or you’re hoping for more than what you got. But overall I think it’s a learning experience for our kids, and we’ll make more improvement from week 1 to week 2 for sure. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
And then you’ve got Ohio U. coming in here, who I think is a 1-0 football team, picked to win the MAC. Frank Solich is a legend. He’s a legend, from his years back at Nebraska. The guy has had a great football team — even when he got let go at Nebraska, if you guys remember, I know Jerry remembers, the guy never should have got let go there. Probably one of the biggest mistakes in Nebraska history is letting Frank Solich go. I’m still (mad) about it. He was a legend there. I don’t know if it was eight or nine wins when they let him go that one year. I don’t know if they expected to win 12.
But great football coach. Their offense starts with Nathan Rourke, phenomenal football player. I think he completed 73 percent of his passes last week against Rhode Island. He’s accurate. He’s smart. He makes good decisions. I like what I see out of him, and he can run it, too. He’s nifty and can run. They’ll run a lot of quarterback keepers and they’ll run some option and option pass with them. They do a lot of different stuff, and it’ll be a big game for Frank Solich, who’s from Johnstown, Pa., if you guys didn’t know that.
Defensively, Javon Hagan I believe is their safety, No. 7, stands out on tape to me as a baller. He flies around and makes plays.
It’ll be a challenge at 11 a.m. on Saturday, that’s for sure. Again, preseason MAC champion. That’s what they’re calling for. We get lucky enough to get them.
Q. The pressure that Virginia generated on Saturday, how much of that was just their guys executing and how much of that was holding on to the ball too long? I assume it was a little bit of everything.
PAT NARDUZZI: I think it’s always a little bit of everything, but they did run a blitz that we didn’t expect, and they ran it quite a few times. I don’t think — our new guys seemed to always be on the right side, but I don’t think our new guys reacted to it as well as we need to. And again, it’s throwing the ball on time. We had guys open more than you can think, and we’ve just got to make better, quicker decisions and get the ball out. So it’s a little bit of both.
Q. You talked about the field position; how do you evaluate the way your defense played given that they had those short fields —
PAT NARDUZZI: It’s hard because I’m still (mad) at them, you know? But how do you evaluate them? It’s hard. When we get into sudden change situations, we want to stop them. Zero points is great, but when you’ve got the ball at the 29, the 27 and the 19, field goals are what we want to get, and it’s hard.
Again, when we’re backed up, they have a 53-yard drive and 10 plays and they end up kicking a field goal, but when they’re backed up we don’t want to give zero points. It’s like we gave them touchdowns when we wanted to give them field goals; we gave them three when we wanted to give them zero, so to me the evaluation is one three-and-out on defense isn’t good enough.
Again, quarterback made plays, give him credit. They made some catches. They had some drives kept alive by some great coverage, and the yellow hanky coming out. Just one of those nights. One of those nights.
Q. The new guys on the defensive line, how would you say they did in their first test on the field?
PAT NARDUZZI: New guys? I’ll tell you what, Deslin played really, really well. We were impressed with him, and obviously he’s the new end that was taking over for Rashad. He played well. Inside Devin Danielson played well, young guy that maybe played 10 snaps. You said new guys. I’m trying to think. Obviously Twyman has been in there. Haba (Baldonado) played solid. Haba played what we kind of thought he would, and very, very encouraged with Haba, as well. Any other new names that I’m forgetting? Bentley and Green got in, were solid near the end, so they were good, too.
Q. Is there any concern about Ohio being somewhat of a trap game because it’s not a division opponent and then same with Penn State coming up —
PAT NARDUZZI: I worry about every game being a trap game. Every game is a trap game. Virginia was a trap game, an opener like that. We’ve just got to be ready to go. We’re focused on one team, as you guys know, and Ohio U., if you put the tape on, is good enough to whoop your tail. They’re well-coached. They’ve been there for a long time, and he’s been there, I think, 15th season. He’s got a system in, he’s got his kids there. They’re sound. They don’t do too much, but they’re very good at what they do. It’s a trap game. They’re all trap games. Every Saturday is a trap game.
Q. Frank Solich said this morning that he’s very appreciative of how he and his staff used to talk ball with you during the offseason while you were at Michigan State. Maybe you helped him too much?
PAT NARDUZZI: Did I help him too much? Probably. Jim Burrow is a good friend who was a defensive coordinator, so we’ve always talked, and I’ve always been comfortable sharing football with other guys around the country. We’ve done that. We’ve had our fair share of stuff we got, so Jim is a good football coach. So is Frank Solich.
Q. How did the team respond after looking at the film?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think you kind of — when you come in here, I think they responded really good. Like I said, what you see is what you get when you watch the tape, and it’s not what they did, the other team; it’s what we did. So I think the way you respond is you look at it and go, ‘Huh, I see it.’ If you got smacked in the mouth and you weren’t in position to make a play, then you wonder how they’re going to respond. You watch the tape, and (if) our receivers are getting locked down, can’t get off a press, can’t get off, can’t get open, but that was not the case. There was guys open and opportunities to make plays, and we just didn’t make them.
So I think it’s encouraging after you watch the tape. You go, ‘Oh, I see what happened.’ The defensive guys get encouraged by watching the other side of the ball going, ‘Oh, okay, we’ve got a chance.’ We’ve just got to make plays, and if we’re going to throw the ball like we did and open it up and start to throw it early instead of just running it every down, then we’ve got to make those plays to keep the sticks moving.
Q. Is there an advantage at all that Mark Whipple at UMass the last two years went against Ohio?
PAT NARDUZZI: Is there an advantage? Is there a disadvantage? I don’t know, there might be — what is it? Again, the difference between when Whipple was at UMass he was there for a few years, and they played the last two years, so is it an advantage maybe for them because they know what Whipple likes to do, they’ve seen it for two years in a row. So I mean, there’s kind of — which one is it? Whipple knows them maybe a little bit on defense, but they also know Whipple, where they’re not going to be surprised, I guess, what he likes to do against what they’ve done in the past. Now, they’ve got a new D-coordinator, so you take that into account, as well.
Q. In the Virginia locker room after the game on Saturday, one of their players said that they knew that if they got in Kenny’s face that he would be ‘frazzled’ was the word that they used. Did you feel there was a cumulative effect on that pressure, and how do you get him to — he took a lot of shots, and credit to Kenny —
PAT NARDUZZI: So did their quarterback. He took a lot of shots, too.
Q. But that quarterback didn’t throw two picks.
PAT NARDUZZI: No doubt about it. Threw them up —
Q. How do you tell Kenny to hang in there when he’s getting —
PAT NARDUZZI: I mean, that’s kind of — that’s what quarterbacks do, they take hits and they get back up, and Kenny is a tough dude. We don’t want him to get hit like he did. The big thing is protect him. Big thing is half those hits, the ball should already be gone and we shouldn’t have that problem. But I don’t see it as frazzled, I just see it still a guy that’s maturing as he gets into this new offense and learning from what he needs to do, and I think when (reporter) Larry (Richert) talks about watching the tape, what do you see, I think he’s one of those guys that can see how much better he can be. There’s no difference from (preseason camp) jersey scrimmage one to jersey scrimmage two, our guys, it’s kind of the same progression. It’s game day, the lights are turned on in Heinz Field, and I’ve told you guys that for five years, that it matters when the lights turn on, and we’ve got to see how guys respond, and that happened in every phase, especially with some of the new guys that maybe hadn’t been in that condition before.
Q. Can establishing the run game kind of help out Kenny and take a little pressure off of him?
PAT NARDUZZI: No question about it. It definitely can. The run game can. We got behind the sticks. You get a punt blocked, you give them short field, you’re behind the sticks. The fourth quarter we threw 17 times, ran it once. Well, that’s a time you can’t. I think it was 24-19 run-to-pass early — I should say pass to run, 24 passes, 19 before you even got to the fourth quarter, but when you’re behind, you end up throwing it, so those stats kind of get watered down a little bit.
But you know, we had guys open. We’ve got to hit them, we’ve got to catch it. That’s what it comes down to.
Q. How do you think the backs did when they weren’t carrying the ball?
PAT NARDUZZI: Not bad. Obviously didn’t get enough — we got behind the sticks — again, it’s hard for Kenny. You see when Kenny — to go back to the quarterback, it’s hard for Kenny when you go three-and-out to even get in a rhythm. You don’t even get in a rhythm. But when you saw after a 1st down all of a sudden he gets in a rhythm, then he becomes pretty good, but it’s even hard to be a play caller. You can’t even get into mixing things up when it’s three out-and-out, you’re back on the sideline, then you’ve got to start a whole drive over again, like what are you going to do now.
I mean, 3rd down is so critical. It’s a key to victory every week. We’ve got to move the sticks and get into a rhythm offensively, but we never got into a rhythm, and when we did get into a rhythm where we got a 1st down, something happened, then our guys went and then you could see Kenny’s feet were good in the pocket, he got more relaxed. So I really don’t think Kenny got frazzled, especially when he came back and did what he did.
Q. What did you like from that second quarter when the offense really started to get going that he could build on for next week?
PAT NARDUZZI: What did we like when? Second quarter? Again, they’ve got to understand we’ve got to make plays. If we’re going throw you the ball, you have to make plays, and I think that’s just what I kind of answered. What I liked is the sticks were moving and we’re making plays, and then they’re getting comfortable.
It’s hard to get comfortable, and (former Pitt quarterback and current radio analyst Pat) Bostick can probably tell you that, when you go three-and-out, and then you sit on the bench for another two minutes and then get back up and go. When the game got in the flow, we started getting some 1st downs, that’s what I liked.
Q. Kenny did make some plays with his feet. He also took some shots when he tried to make plays with his feet. As a coach how do you sort of weigh that against —
PAT NARDUZZI: He did get out-of-bounds one time, but he’s a tough — he’s tough. Now, he’s never had an injury problem, but he didn’t want to wear knee braces this year, which I was okay with. It’s kind of like, Kenny — he’s like, Coach, most people that wear knee braces have knee problems. I’m good. Let’s — again, knock on a lot of wood there, but so he wants to make plays with his feet, and we’ll continue to do that.
Q. Outside of changing your alarms, 11 a.m. start, is there anything you have to do differently with that?
PAT NARDUZZI: Not really. We’re a morning practice team, so alarms are about the only thing.
Q. We saw Vincent Davis got in there for a couple carries. Is he a guy who’s going to play more than four games?
PAT NARDUZZI: It’s too early to tell really. We wanted to get him in there just to see do we want to give him more than two reps, and just to give him a chance to go run the football, just to see what would happen. And he did okay while he was in there. He didn’t panic. He didn’t do anything crazy. So we’ll just keep evaluating that. We won’t know until after four games. When he plays four games, we’ll decide is he going to play five or are we shutting him down, and that depends how the other guys do, too.
Q. In your self-scout, do you think maybe you might want to run the ball earlier in games?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, again, we can always look back and say that, but when I see all the open receivers, if you put the videotape on, you’re saying, ‘Gosh, throw it to that guy really quick, let’s go.’ It’s hard to say. If you had to go back and say it, maybe if you knew we wouldn’t throw it to the guy that’s open, yeah, let’s just go and run it. It’s easier to do this for sure. But when you see open guys, you’re going, man, we had a chance to make some big plays.
Q. The quarterback position is obviously so important to the game right now. The MAC conference, it seems like there’s always one or two guys that are really at the top of that position in there. When you coached in that conference, how did those schools continue to find all these good quarterbacks that end up going to the NFL or at the top of college football year in and year out?
PAT NARDUZZI: That’s the story of the Mid-American. I was fortunate enough to be there with Big Ben Roethlisberger, but there’s good players out there everywhere. There’s plenty of them. That’s why I say, those two-star guys, those one-star guys develop into players and they play enough years and they play within the system and don’t try to do too much — Nathan is — he’s a baller — he’s got a great arm, too. It just goes to show you, those stars and the 6’3″ guy compared to the 6’1″ guy don’t really matter. He’s a football player.
Q. Is there a method to playing two mobile quarterbacks in a row after seeing Perkins last week and Rourke this week? Do they do similar things?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, they do similar things. There’s a lot of similarities. Yeah, but that’s life in college football. Everybody is spread it out, quarterback zone read keeps. Nathan loves to run the zone read, especially out of three-by-ones into the boundary. He’s a good football player.
Q. You ran some no-huddle on Saturday. What made you decide to do that?
PAT NARDUZZI: I’m the head coach. (Smiles) Coach Whipple likes it, I like it, tempo of the game. Puts people on their toes. Just don’t want to go three-and-out with it. Want to eat up a little bit more clock and get down the field, get some 1st downs. But it is what it is. That’s what we see. It’s great for our defense, too. It’s where college football is going, or been.
Q. When you look at the NCAA, there’s a lot of transfers now that are getting waivers. You filled the roster with graduate guys mostly. As you see guys, quarterbacks now especially, it seems like they can be here one stop and go to the next stop and play next year. What’s your philosophy on transfers, and is that something that looks like it’s going to be a little more open?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I think it’s going to be more closed in the future, but we’re just looking for good football players. We don’t care what their age is. It’s not a matter of ‘He’s got one year, we just want one-year grad transfers.’ That’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for the best players that fit what we need. And I think there’s always a risk, too, if you’re not sure if he’s going to get that waiver. I don’t know if it’s 50/50. Seemed like early it was a lot of waivers, then they shut that stuff down a little bit, so I don’t know what the percentage is right now. But from my meetings with the NCAA, that’s going to get kind of closed down. They’re talking about changing the rules where everybody has got to sit out and we’ll give you the year on the back end. You won’t lose a year of eligibility sitting out, you’ll get it on the back end but we’re not going to give it to you now. So I don’t know where that’s going. But that’s what the NCAA seems like they want to do and the coaches want to do it, as well.
Q. Two more new starters on the defense, Kylan Johnson and Paris Ford. How do you think they did?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think both of them did really, really well. I’ll start with Kylan, just start up front there. He made some nice tackles. He’s very sound in what he’s doing, especially for a guy playing his first time here in a new defense. So I was really, really happy with Kylan and what he did.
And then Paris Ford, first start at the safety position, maybe his first start I guess here. I’m not sure if he started at corner in the past. I know he’s played there.
But I was really, really happy with Paris. He had a nice — I’ve told you about getting turnovers. That guy did the same exact thing when he ripped that ball out and unfortunately went out of bounds and he scrambled off the tackle, off the strip to get that ball on the 3rd down, that’s what he does in practice every day. That’s him. But I was really happy with what Paris did overall in the day. Maybe had one missed assignment, which that’s huge with what he’s doing, and he’s just going to get more and more comfortable every time he walks on that field. That’s the good thing. Virginia’s offense, there’s a lot of stuff they do. They’re not a simple offense. They do a lot of personnels, a lot of different formations, a lot of motion, to empty. There was a lot of things for a first-time starting safety. But you love his attitude. That guy is a football player.
Q. I remember when the pass defense had some issues a few years ago, you were like, ‘Hey, we’re going to play man and I’m just going to try to believe in my guys.’ There wasn’t a lot of room for their receivers on Saturday night. I know you’re not happy with the penalties, but what about just that group in general?
PAT NARDUZZI: The corners?
Q. The maturity and development.
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, again, we want to make plays on the ball. That’s the one thing I wish you could get around. That’s like I told the official on our sideline, like ‘Hey, he can’t get off a press. We’re right there. Tell the guy to get some separation and we won’t be able to hold him.’ It’s not like there was any separation. I was like, ‘The guy is going to be in the NFL next year and you’re going to call a penalty on him because the guy can’t get off.’ It’s not his fault, because there wasn’t any tugging going on, he was just all over him.
I don’t know what you do. But I’m happy with that group. Damarri Mathis had two PBUs in a row, two big, big PBUs so I was happy for him, and Jason Pinnock did some great things, as well, so all three of those guys are starters, as I said, and they rotated through the game and did a nice job.
Q. Did you come out of the game clean as far as the “I” word (injuries) is concerned?
PAT NARDUZZI: We’re waiting — we did, overall, yes, except for we’re waiting on one evaluation still to find out, but we’ll find out hopefully shortly.