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Starting Fast Imperative for Pitt vs. Virginia Tech

The Pitt Panthers missed vital opportunities to put Georgia Tech away early.

PITTSBURGH -- Pat Narduzzi had two things at the top of his to-do list ahead of kickoff against Georgia Tech. The Pitt Panthers had to do two very simple things to beat the Yellow Jackets - come out of the gates hot and win the turnover battle. They did neither. 

“My number one key to victory last week ... was ‘start fast’," Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said. "I must be a dummy. ... Honest to god, it was ‘start fast’ and ‘be plus in the turnover ratio’. We didn’t do either one of them."

On the game's first play from scrimmage, Safety Erick Hallett had a chance to put his team up 6-0 before the offense touched the ball, but he dropped a pass thrown right to him by Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims. Hallett could have walked from the 28 yard line to the endzone, but had to run back and get set for second and 10 instead. 

On the offense's first snap, a lineman missed an assignment and allowed a Yellow Jacket rusher to take a free hit on quarterback Kedon Slovis, who couldn't see his receiver running wide open down field. 

The Panthers had two golden opportunities to put momentum on their side at the beginning of the game. Instead, they amassed five yards on nine plays in the first quarter while Georgia Tech gained 68 yards on 24 plays. The visitors held the ball for 10:57 and Pitt had it for 4:03.

Narduzzi said he showed the first two plays of the defense and offense's first series during team meetings to illustrate how making those plays can make or break game. "It’s probably a totally different outcome," if they can make that one timely block or catch, according to Narduzzi.  

"Starting fast" was a mantra repeated by veteran pass-catchers Gavin Bartholomew and Jared Wayne. He said a hot open to the game gives a team confidence that they can sustain mometum throughout all four quarters. 

“It’s a game of inches, as we always say," Wayne said. "A couple of things didn’t go our way and it’s hard to get in a rhythm and get things started if things aren’t going your way. We’ve just been focused on the details this week and executing.”

Executing is the name of the game for Narduzzi too. Those plays he higlighted were not wild disasters. The Panthers were one missed assignment and better hands from a defensive back away from putting the Yellow Jackets firmly on their heels. Instead Georgia Tech - a team overmatched on paper in just about every sense entering the evening - hung around and eventually won. 

This week, facing another team the Panthers are, on paper, more talented than, they cannot avoid to let their opponents believe they can win for even a second. Narduzzi beleives doing that is as simple as making the plays that are in front of them. 

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"I mean we can talk about it, but we got to go do it," Narduzzi said. "We can tell them what to do, but we got to go execute and make plays and play Pitt football. That’s what it comes down to.”

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