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Pat’s Points: Pitt WRs, Odd Timeout Sequence and a Short Week



Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.

As the Pitt Panthers sit at 2-8, staring down the worst season in decades, it’s already a predetermined fate. Even with two more wins, Pitt is still in a bad position.

But at this point, with two games left (hosting Boston College and traveling to Duke), all the Pitt coaches can do now is try to finish the season strong. No matter how many embarrassing losses come Pitt’s way, Narduzzi has said — decidedly, at this point — that there will not be any changes in the season.

So, it’s up to the players to come together and finish the season strong, despite — as Narduzzi has said many times this season — not being put in the best position by the coaching staff.

Pitt is facing off against Boston College on a short week, coming off a brutal loss to Syracuse in New York City, and all the Panthers can do is move forward against an opponent that will likely try to do something similar to what ‘Cuse did over the weekend.

Staying Fresh When Not Given the Chance 

Unlike a normal week, Pitt didn’t have the luxury of spending Sunday watching film and taking Monday off. The Panthers flew home from New York City late Saturday night, got a few hours of sleep upon landing in Pittsburgh and were back for practice Sunday afternoon.

“It was good,” Narduzzi said. “Went out there and had a full scrimmage — we didn’t do that. You’ve got to be careful. I preached to our guys about just recovery and making sure that we’re as fresh as we can be. It’s a fast turnaround because you play a game and you get home at whatever, 11:00, 11:30 at night, probably they’re walking in the Bridge on Forbes at midnight and you’re turning around and practicing the next afternoon.”

There wasn’t time to sit down and watch exactly what went wrong against Syracuse, at least, not as a team, but the film study still went on.

Pitt turned its attention to watching Boston College, and more importantly, preparing itself physically for what should be another game in which the opposition runs the ball — a lot.

“You’ve just got to be careful what you do, which always scares you as a coach,” Narduzzi said. “It’s like you can go practice and work on those fundamentals and all those things and be exhausted on Thursday night, and I want a fresh team, as fresh as we can make them. So, you try to balance that with what you do workwise and how fresh you can keep them.”

With just four days off, and Sunday spent partially as a travel day, rest and recovery are at a premium. But 10 games into the season, it’s not as if anyone is truly 100% anymore either.

Pitt linebacker Donovan McMillon.

Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Donovan McMillon (3) September 23, 2023 David Hague/Pittsburgh Sports Now

Always Want More Physicality

Pitt missed 18 tackles against Syracuse, which certainly contributed to allowing 382 yards to the ‘Cuse Wildcat, but it’s not as if the Panthers were shying away from hits.

Pitt hit hard, hard just wasn’t always enough against some big, physical Syracuse runners.

“I wouldn’t say not physical enough,” Narduzzi said. “You always want it to be more physical. You talk about toughness up on that back — our guys get great — put it this way: Defensively when you talk about physical, they’re about as physical as you can get. Just more leverage, I guess.

“Then the effort was outstanding all the way to the last drive on 3rd and short and 4th-and-short.”

It certainly wasn’t a banner day defensively for Pitt, it never is when allowing nearly 400 yards on the ground, but it’s not as if the Orange ran the ball 66 times because Pitt has a poor defense. There were stretches where the Panthers shut the Orange down, but without any resistance from the Pitt offense, Syracuse knew it could simply wear the Pitt defense down. And it did.

I don’t think the Pitt defense played well, missed tackles clearly still plaguing a defense that has been just out of position all season, but it was a strong second quarter, and there was even a red zone turnover on downs in the third quarter that was rewarded with an immediate pick-six.

But, even then, Narduzzi will always appreciate even more physicality.

“We’ve got to be more physical — again, it’s a little bit of everything, but one thing you notice when you go back and watch tape is there are a lot of guys breaking down. I’m not a big break down because all you do when you start to break down on a tackle, you just give that guy a chance to make a move on you. You break down, then he gives you a little over there and goes there.

“But I like to go take shots, and that’s what our guys are taught to do is go run through, and if you’re going to miss, know where you’re going to miss; miss on this side, miss on that side. Know where your help is, and they should always know where their help is based on the coverage of the defense. We like to take shots, and I don’t like stuttering down. Don’t give that guy a chance to make you miss.”

It will be another tough test against the top-ranked rushing offense in the ACC.

What Went Into the Odd Timeout Sequence? 

Ben Sauls ran out onto the field as Pitt faced a 4th-and-11 from the Syracuse 32, about to attempt a nearly 50-yard field goal, midway through the second quarter.

A Christian Veilleux pass fell incomplete on 3rd-and-11, and instead of letting Sauls attempt the 50-yard field goal, Narduzzi took a timeout to think it over — and talk to the officials about what he thought was going to happen.

“Again, I’m arguing with the official on the stem, and I sat next to the guy — again, not a bad argument, it was a good argument,” Narduzzi said. “I was asking how his day was going, what he had for dinner last night. But no, I was warning him before the ball even got snapped that you know they’re going to stem and try to make us jump offsides. I said, watch it. What did they do? They stemmed and got Terrence (Moore) to flinch.”

Moore did jump, and it backed Pitt up — out of what the coaching staff thought was Sauls’ range — and forced a punt.

“You know, again, I called it right ahead of time because I knew on a long one, they’d try to back us up more. As I’m talking to him, they never pumped the clock up, and again, that’s what it was.”

The television broadcast made it appear as if Narduzzi used two timeouts, and it did look like it, but the Panthers were charged just one timeout in the sequence. But the Caleb Junko punt, which had three gunners parked in the end zone, bounced into the end zone, too.

It was a thoroughly messy sequence that resulted in nothing for the Panthers. It kind of summed up the entire game.

Pitt wide receiver Bub Means.

Pittsburgh Panthers wide receiver Bub Means (0) November 4, 2023 David Hague/PSN

Growth at Wide Receiver Finally 

It’s taken some time, having gone through a tough season in the first year of the Frank Cignetti Jr. era, but after a slow start to the season, the wide receiving corps is truly one of the most consistent offensively.

That’s not exactly a high bar to clear, but even in a dreadful offensive performance against Syracuse, Bub Means and Konata Mumpfield stood out. Means led Pitt with 71 yards on two catches, and Mumpfield caught four balls for 29 yards and the lone offensive touchdown.

Despite a very, very poor season from the offense, both Means and Mumpfield have progressed personally. Means has caught 32 passes for 558 yards and four touchdowns and Mumpfield has caught 40 passes for 527 yards and five touchdowns.

Neither has been perfect, and it was a legitimate struggle for Means early in the season, but the unit as a whole — with Kenny Johnson and DaeDae Reynolds in the mix — isn’t a weakness. The wide receivers aren’t a bad unit. Far from it.

“I’m proud of the way those guys have hung together and can make plays when they have opportunities,” Narduzzi said. “You guys were here, Kenny Pickett’s junior year where it wasn’t like that.

“That’s one of our older groups; we look at Bub and Konata and Daejon Reynolds, and you’ve got the one young puppy in there, Kenny, those are probably the top four if I’m not missing anybody that are getting a lot of the reps out there.”

And Narduzzi said that two of the four main pass catchers, didn’t say which two exactly, were dealing some sort of bug that went around before kickoff Saturday, too.

So, while it’s been a disastrous season offensively, there are some building blocks in place, and Tiquan Underwood’s unit has shown signs of progression. It will be interesting now to see how the season finishes. And what the offseason holds for some of the Pitt pass catchers with decisions to make.

Season Summed Up by a Couple of Fumbles

It wasn’t a good day for Veilleux. He threw a bad pick-six, and he botched two handoffs that resulted in turnovers.

The first came on the first possession of the second half, having driven nearly 30 yards to set up a first-and-10 from the Syracuse 44, and there was a clear miscommunication between Veilleux and Johnson on a motion sweep play. Ball ends up on the ground, and ‘Cuse recovers.

The second came on the fourth possession of the second half, right after a three-and-out and the pick-six, and on another first-and-10, Veilleux botched a handoff to Hammond. And this one looked like one where Veilleux intended to keep the ball and simply couldn’t hang on. ‘Cuse managed to jump on it again.

“A little bit of both, just having a better grip on the ball and pulling it,” Narduzzi said. “Obviously, you’re reading it and you’ve got to be clean with the mesh, and it wasn’t.”

Two botched handoffs, to go along with a pick-six and a third fumble, are unacceptable. It was a pathetic performance offensively, and it’s hard to justify that performance resulting in another try. Poor coaching, poor play and poor results. Yet again.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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4 hours ago

This whole season has been one big botched handoff.

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