Panthers look to regroup from setbacks as Marshall visits
PITTSBURGH (AP) During his lengthy run as a coordinator, a time that began long before spread offenses and opponents trying to snap the ball moments after the officials spot it became the norm, Pat Narduzzi would set pretty ambitious standards for the defenses he coached.
''When I first got to Cincinnati and eventually Michigan State, our goal defensively was to limit the other team to 13 points per game,'' Narduzzi said. ''Today, that just isn't going to happen.''
If the second-year Pitt head coach and his team can find a way to limit the guys on the other sideline to double that amount, they'd be on to something.
At the moment, they're not. And that's the problem.
The Panthers (2-2) find themselves scrambling a bit as Marshall (1-2) visits Heinz Field on Saturday. Pitt has dropped two straight following a cathartic victory over Penn State on Sept. 10. Both losses came in the final moments on the road against quality teams, including a 37-36 setback at North Carolina last week in which the Panthers let a 13-point fourth-quarter lead slip away and gave up the winning touchdown pass with 2 seconds to go.
For a team that preached the importance of finishing during the offseason - and starts the fourth quarter of every game jumping out and down as if paying tribute to early `90s hip-hop group House of Pain - there's still work to be done.
Still, Narduzzi insists his players haven't ''lost any of their swag. They're fine.''
Maybe, but Pitt's defense has lost its way at critical times. The Panthers are 127th in the country (out of 128 teams) in pass defense and are giving up 40.1 points per game against Power Five schools. Those numbers have to change and change quickly if Pitt wants to be considered a serious threat in the ACC Coastal Division.
The Thundering Herd have their own issues on defense, giving up 65 and 59 points in consecutive weeks. Yet they can score too. Things to look for as another potential shootout looms.
FAMILIAR FACE: Marshall coach Doc Holliday spent years facing the Panthers while working as an assistant coach at West Virginia. Holliday declined to get into specifics about his memories of participating in the ''Backyard Brawl'' rivalry between the Mountaineers and the Panthers.
''We did play them a lot,'' Holliday said. ''We won some. They won some.''
STAYING AGGRESSIVE: One of the reasons Pitt's defense wore down late against the Tar Heels is because it spent a ton of time on the field after the offense went stagnant in the fourth quarter. The Panthers have been outscored 39-17 in the fourth quarter on the season. A little more balance on offense - which has run for 998 yards and passed for 643 through four weeks - would help.
''We're doing a great job running the football,'' Narduzzi said. ''We can do a little better job throwing the football, but not much better. It's a couple plays here and there.''
BACK AT WORK: Marshall QB Chase Litton will start after missing a loss to No. 3 Louisville last week with an undisclosed injury. Litton has passed for 10 touchdowns against three interceptions and is more of a pocket passer than replacement Garet Morrell. Litton will be joined in the backfield by Tony Pittman, who will get a start after rushing for 54 yards against the Cardinals.
Whoever is on the field for Marshall's offense needs to help improve the team's third-down conversion rate. The Thundering Herd are turning just 23 percent of their third downs into first downs.
''Our goal is to be around 50 percent on third-down conversions,'' Holliday said. ''Normally, we're there. We've got to get better in a lot of areas, and third-down conversions are one of them, not only offensively, but defensively.''
CH-CH-CHANGES?: Narduzzi believes Pitt's problems in the secondary come down to small details, not major mental mistakes. Still, he hinted at injecting some new blood to provide a spark.
''There's always time to shake things up a little bit and we'll shake things up,'' Narduzzi said. ''I'm still a firm believer that we have a lot of the right players on the field and it's our job as coaches to get them to do it the right way. We can do a better job coaching.''
AP Sports Writer John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.
AP college football site: www.collegefootball.ap.org