Pat Narduzzi

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No. 13 Penn State sidesteps Pitt in 100th (and temporarily final) meeting

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A week of verbal jabbing and pettiness culminated in the 100th meeting in the rivalry between No. 13 Penn State (3-0) and Pitt (1-2) on Saturday afternoon. After a delayed start to the game due to weather conditions in the area, the last regular-season meeting between the two programs on the schedule certainly felt like an intense game, as Penn State held off the Panthers 17-10 to move to 3-0.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was under pressure all day against a feisty Pitt defensive line, and at times he certainly looked like a young quarterback who was feeling the pressure. He ended the game completed less than half of his passes (14-of-30) but did throw for 222 yards without an interception (one was waved off due to a Pitt penalty). Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett was much more effective with shorter passes and lobs that were somehow caught by his receivers for big gains, as he passed for 372 yards. But like Clifford, Pickett was unable to get his team in the endzone through the air. The only touchdown allowed by the Penn State defense came near the end of the first half with Vincent Davis briefly giving the Panthers a 10-7 lead.

Penn State managed to tie the game just before halftime on a school-record 57-yard field goal by Jordan Stoudt, avoiding a second straight week trailing their opponent at halftime at home. Penn State’s defense wasn’t perfect in the second half, but the Nittany Lions shutout the Panthers after the break. A 13-yard run up the middle of the Pitt defense gave Penn State the go-ahead and eventual game-winning score in the third quarter. From there, it was all about the defense.

Both teams had their share of struggles on third downs, but both teams thrived on fourth down. Pitt was a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth down, which made a decision by Pat Narduzzi to kick a field goal from the Penn State one-yard line all the more puzzling in the fourth quarter. With 4:54 to play and trailing by seven, Narduzzi sent kicker Alex Kessman out for a 19-yard try that bounced off the goal post.

There are no meetings between the two schools currently scheduled for the future, so, for now, the 100th meeting will give Penn State the in-state bragging rights. Pitt won the first meeting in this four-year revival, but Penn State won the last three meetings, including two in decisive fashion. For now, Penn State will get a bye week to prepare for their Big Ten opener in two weeks at Maryland. Maryland will be looking to bounce back after being upset in southeastern Pennsylvania just prior to Penn State finishing off Pittsburgh. Maryland was upset at Temple as their high-powered offense was nowhere to be seen.

Pitt will return to action next week with another good quality opponent. The Panthers host UCF a week after the Knights are playing Stanford.

Pat Narduzzi surprised nobody asks him about James Franklin’s comment about sign stealing

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Earlier this week, Penn State head coach James Franklin noted the Nittany Lions had changed up some of their signals for plays this season because a former player is now on the opposing sideline. That opposing player is John Petrishen, who plays for the Pitt Panthers. No big deal, right? Of course not, but Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi wasn’t about to let that comment go without a response.

While meeting with the media on Thursday, Narduzzi was probably hoping somebody would bring the subject up to him. After nobody did, Narduzzi prompted the discussion himself.

“We haven’t been thieves, I guess,” Narduzzi said. “But usually the people who are paranoid are the people stealing them.”

Before we go any further, let’s just agree that it is perfectly acceptable to steal an opposing team’s signs if it gives your team an advantage. It is on your coaching staff and players to modify any signals the moment you feel they have been figured out by the team on the other side of the field. There is nothing wrong with it, and teams should be doing what they can to steal signals as much as possible. With that out of the way, Narduzzi seems to feel Franklin was suggesting the Panthers would use the intelligence that came from a former Penn State player to their advantage (again, there is nothing wrong with doing that, nor is there anything wrong with trying to counteract that scenario).

Narduzzi made it a point to note Penn State has a former Pitt football staffer on the Penn State staff now (Eric Thatcher).

“I haven’t said anything about [that],” Narduzzi said, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He sat in the defensive meeting rooms for two years. Did you guys know that? Eric Thatcher’s in recruiting, and I’m sure he’s a ball coach this week trying to fill them in on what we do. A 35-year-old guy or a 21-year-old guy that’s been playing one position, I don’t think [Petrishen is] worried about offensive signals or defensive signals. … It’s a funny subject.”

It is a funny subject. It is so ridiculous, there is a reason nobody felt the need to bring it up to Narduzzi, perhaps.

“Our eyes are on our kids,” Narduzzi said. “Signals, I mean, I could have their notebook. If I had their notebook sitting right here, which, maybe I do. I don’t know. I could have their notebook, but that ain’t gonna help me win a football game. I can promise you that. OK? Defensively, your hands are tied. You can’t steal signals. That’s me. Maybe I’m just a dumb defensive coach. OK?”

Well, if that doesn’t open up a can of worms, what will?

Penn State and Pitt resume their petty rivalry this Saturday in Happy Valley. It will be the 100th all time meeting between the two schools and there is no telling when the in-state rivals will meet again with no future dates locked in against each other.

Pat Narduzzi keeps Pitt players out of media spotlight ahead of Penn State game for fourth straight year

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The Pitt Panthers are heading to Happy Valley this week to face in-state rival Penn State this weekend, and for the fourth consecutive year, Pitt football players will not be made available ahead of the game at the discretion of head coach Pat Narduzzi.

“We just want to keep it tight with our kids and let them focus on what they need to focus on,” Narduzzi explained to media members as ha addressed the self-imposed gag order of sorts for his players.

Narduzzi shutting off his players from the media leading up to the regular season meeting with Penn State has been an annual routine for Narduzzi. But if the intent is to have a team that is more prepared to take down their in-state rival, it has backfired each of the past two years.

Pitt won the first game in this current four-games set in 2016 when the Panthers jumped out to an early lead and held off a furious rally by Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley for a 42-39 victory in Pittsburgh. With that being the first meeting between the two schools since 2000, the media attention given to it in the state of Pennsylvania was running rampant. Narduzzi keeping his players out of the spotlight may or may not have had much of an impact, but who was going to argue with a strategy that resulted in a win? In 2017, Narduzzi once again stuck to the Penn State policy of keeping microphones and cameras away form his players.

The only problem is the same strategy didn’t work either of the last two seasons. Penn State won the 2017 clash in Beaver Stadium 33-14 and then blew away the Panthers in Heinz Field last season, 51-6.

Penn State and Pitt are scheduled to kick things off at noon eastern in Beaver Stadium for the final scheduled time (for now).

Pitt adds CMU assistant Archie Collins as 10th assistant

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Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi now has his staff complete for the 2018 season, barring any unforeseen changes that could come after the next signing period. Archie Collins, who previously was an assistant at Central Michigan, will make join the Pitt coaching staff, although the specific role he will take on has yet to be formally announced.

“Archie is a fantastic coach and highly driven recruiter,” Narduzzi said in a released statement. “We wanted our 10th assistant coach appointment to be an impactful hire and we achieved that by bringing Archie to Pitt. I first met him when he was a high school coach in Detroit and later I had him as a graduate assistant. Archie went on to do really exceptional work at Central Michigan and he’ll be a great asset for our entire program. I’m thrilled to welcome him and his family to Pitt.”

It is expected Collins will work with the defensive backs at Pitt in some capacity after taking that role at Central Michigan and working as a defensive passing game coordinator with the MAC program. Pitt ranked 13th in the 14-team ACC in passing defense a season ago after allowing an average of 254.2 passing yards per game with 24 passing touchdowns given up with just nine interceptions.

Collins will have some potential talent to work with as Dane Jackson and Damar Hamlin come off their redshirt sophomore and sophomore seasons, respectively and some freshmen looking to have an impact beginning this spring. With Jordan Whitehead declaring a year early for the NFL, the defensive secondary will have some room to improve in 2018.

Pitt players being blocked from media leading up to Penn State game

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It worked for Pitt last year, so Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi figures why change anything?

For the second year in a row, Pitt will block off the media from being able to discuss the next game with Panthers players. Narduzzi will be the sole voice heard from the Pitt program this week as the Panthers prepare for a road game at Penn State.

The in-state rivalry between Penn State and Pitt was renewed for the first time in 15 years last season with the first of four straight games. The Panthers hosted the first game in the four-game set and held on to defeat Penn State 42-39. The Panthers roughed up Penn State early on to build a substantial lead, but Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley did their best to nearly pull off the comeback before a late deep ball interception from McSorley thwarted the comeback effort with the momentum on Penn State’s side. Little did anyone know at the time of the Week 2 matchup last fall that Penn State would later go on to win the Big Ten and Pitt would score another wild upset against eventual national champion Clemson.

The decision to shut off media access to the team last year at Pitt followed over a year of hype for the revival of the in-state rivalry, especially from the opposing offensive line coaches. Penn State blanked Akron in their season opener over the weekend, 52-0, while Pitt avoided a disaster at home by prevailing over Youngstown State in overtime, 28-21. Penn State has opened as a sizable favorite in the game this week, with an 18-point spread in their favor.