Panthers looking to bounce back after loss to Irish
PITTSBURGH (AP) Pat Narduzzi tilted his head and laughed.
Asked to expand on what kind of ''little things'' showed up on tape during Pittsburgh's 42-30 loss to Notre Dame last Saturday, the first-year head coach replied ''you got an hour?''
Technically it took Narduzzi two to go through them during a lengthy review with his team on Sunday. Then it was time to move forward. As disappointing as the result was, Narduzzi is quick to point out the loss didn't affect Pitt's chances of staying in the ACC Coastal Division race.
The Panthers (6-3, 4-1) can still technically catch and even surpass first-place North Carolina, all they need is a couple of missteps by the 17th ranked Tar Heels and a strong finish starting on Saturday on the road at reeling Duke (6-3, 3-2).
''We're going to go full tilt,'' wide receiver Tyler Boyd said. ''We don't let anybody slack off. (Duke) lost this week, too, so they're coming off a loss.''
The early momentum the Panthers enjoyed in their first season under Narduzzi came to an abrupt stop against the Irish. Notre Dame scored six touchdowns and provided very clear evidence of the decreasing but still very present talent gap between Pitt and the elite, a ''deficiency'' Narduzzi says the program will address in recruiting.
Yet that kind of help won't arrive on campus until next summer, leaving Narduzzi and his staff to plug the holes that have popped up in recent weeks as opponents have improved, a trend that will continue as the Blue Devils, Louisville and Miami loom.
''To me, you're going to be judged on the last three games, no question about it,'' Narduzzi said. ''That's the nature of the beast. I guess.''
Narduzzi is quick to praise the compete level of his team, which kept coming even after the Irish built a 42-17 lead. The Panthers scored a couple late touchdowns, both on effort plays by Boyd and defensive end Ejuan Price. The scores highlighted Narduzzi's belief that Pitt can hang with the big boys with the players currently in the fold, pointing to a quick screen the Irish ran to wide receiver Will Fuller in which Fuller was surrounded by a swarm of Panthers only to slip free.
''It's not like you're going, `Where is everybody at?''' Narduzzi said. ''We have guys there, but we need to finish the play and make it. Sometimes that's easier said than done when you have an athlete like (Fuller).''
And there were glimpses of what's to come for Pitt, namely from freshman Jordan Whitehead. The top recruit in Pennsylvania last season stayed committed to the Panthers even after Narduzzi replaced Paul Chryst. All Whitehead has done is lead the Panthers in tackles, then adding the first two touchdowns of his career with a pair of short scoring bursts against the Irish that showcased his spectacular speed.
While Narduzzi cautioned he doesn't see a scenario where Whitehead moves to offense full time, a package for Whitehead will almost surely become a part of the weekly gameplan. That's fine by Boyd, who figures to benefit from the attention opponents will have to place on his precocious teammate.
''I saw another guy out there who was athletic and elusive, someone we can trust with the ball in their hands who can make plays,'' Boyd said. ''It was stress off me to open up the things I want to do on offense. (And) now we can find more ways to get him the ball now.''
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org