PITTSBURGH (AP) The scoreboard said Pittsburgh was up 18. Coach Pat Narduzzi offered a starkly different take when his borderline giddy team walked into the locker room for halftime on Saturday against Louisville.
''He came in tripping, `The game ain't over, it's still 0-0,''' wide receiver Tyler Boyd said.
And for the next two quarters, Narduzzi coached like it. Rather than sitting back and passively protecting their advantage, the Panthers went all-in instead. It's what they do under Narduzzi, whose relentlessly aggressive approach has Pitt surging into Friday's regular season finale against Miami.
''I don't sit back and wait for people to come back to me,'' Narduzzi said Monday. ''I want to throw some punches, not dance around the ring. Our kids take on that as well.''
The Panthers (8-3, 6-1 ACC) began the year picked to finish sixth in the ACC Coast Division. They'll end it no worse than second behind No. 11 North Carolina. At win over the struggling Hurricanes and in whatever bowl game they might find themselves in would give Pitt only its second 10-win season since 1982.
''It's what we came here to do is finally get a chance to set a legacy and get Pitt back to where it should be,'' defensive end Daryl Render said.
Narduzzi is hardly ready to look that far down the road - it's simply not his style - the fact it's even on the table is remarkable considering the Panthers lost reigning ACC Player of the Year James Conner in the second quarter of the opener against Youngstown State.
Pitt has done more than survived. Freshman Qadree Ollison went over 1,000 yards on the season when he mashed the Cardinals for 152, many of them coming in the second half as the Panthers held off a late rally for a convincing 45-34 win and junior quarterback Nathan Peterman is becoming less a caretaker and more of a difference maker, throwing for four touchdowns in the second quarter alone on Saturday.
Yet the hallmark of Pitt's transformation is on the other side of the ball, where Narduzzi and defensive coordinator Josh Conklin have turned the Panthers into a freewheeling unit bent on creating chaos in the pocket. Pitt is fifth in the nation in sacks per game (3.36) and spent most of last Saturday afternoon in the face of Louisville quarterbacks Kyle Bolin and Lamar Jackson.
Defensive end Ejuan Price set a school record with five sacks alone, a couple of them coming so easy he almost had to apologize after the quarterbacks basically ran into him trying to escape one of his teammates.
''That's the plan every week (to attack),'' Price said. ''Sometimes it just don't go.''
Narduzzi was unapologetic when the plan backfired in a loss to Notre Dame earlier this month, a game in which Irish wide receiver Will Fuller scored three touchdowns when matched up in single coverage as the Panthers opted to blitz, saying he'd do it again if given the chance. He then backed up that talk against Louisville. Even though the Cardinals turned a blowout into something a little more interesting in the second half, Louisville's only opportunity to tie the game ended with a quick three and out early in the fourth quarter.
''We're an attacking defense, we're going to attack offense,'' Render said. ''You don't want to be predictable.''
Something the Panthers are decidedly not. Narduzzi has provided Pitt with something it desperately needed after three seasons of running in place under the well-intentioned but hardly dynamic Paul Chryst. Narduzzi spends three-plus hours every weekend a walking, talking livewire whose confidence in his players is only matched by his drive to challenge them.
The effect on his program is palpable, from the pogoing the Panthers do at the start of every fourth quarter to the way he empowers Conklin and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to get after it.
''We compete in everything we do on the field,'' Narduzzi said. ''So it's just being competitive and going after somebody's weakness.''
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