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UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE

November 13, 2017

Pat Narduzzi

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

PAT NARDUZZI: You know, obviously another rough weekend at the office. A lot of good things. When you go back and watch tape, the same things you saw on Saturday were the same things you saw when you were watching tape. A lot of good things. Our offense ran the ball for 250 plus. Defensively stopped the run for the most part, kept them in check all the way until the last drive when we needed to stop the run and get the ball back to our offense, which I felt like was a smart move. If it was 4th and 10 we probably would have went for it, but at 4th and 19, you know, you just had to put the weight on the -- you're kind of torn which way to go there. But 4th and 19 there was no doubt we had to get the ball back with our defense, and we didn't do so.

But a lot of good things. Defensively gave up four explosives. Obviously one was fatal. But we win as a team and we lose as a team, and everybody in this room had responsibility for it, starting with me, and getting it done. We let it slip away. There was those three major plays that you point out, and as I told the guys last night, it's offense, defense, special teams. It's all of us, it's coaches. But the kickoff return is started right there. We've got two guys ready to make a tackle. It's not like they're not in position to make that play. A couple young guys, and you've just got to finish it. Nice run, give them credit.

Obviously putting the ball on the ground on the fumble was obviously a critical play, and then kind of a reverse pass where we've got a guy standing right on top of the guy and we just let him go. Those are three critical ones. But there's a ton of other plays I can show you that we could be a lot better, and that's what irks you. There's three that stand out, three that really stand out, and then a bunch of other little ones that it's fundamentals and details, and we've got to do a better job as coaches and as players.

Questions?

Q. As far as defensively in the fourth quarter, Thursday night you said you'd have to look at the tape. Did you sort of figure out what happened there when they were attacking the middle of the field and beating you guys there?
PAT NARDUZZI: In the coverage part of it you're talking?

Q. Or against the run.
PAT NARDUZZI: Our safeties weren't tight enough in coverage on No. 2. They were running what we call a ding route and just kind of banging us right inside is what you're talking about, I think, until the last series. But we weren't getting work out of really both of our safeties the way we wanted it to be, and it comes down to that. We weren't tight enough on No. 2 whether we were in man free or quarters coverage, we just didn't get on the guy quick enough for whatever reason.

Q. Without having Damar, I guess?
PAT NARDUZZI: Damar wasn't as good as -- he was the same thing. Obviously it doesn't help when your starter is not out there, but there was a couple factors out there.

Q. What have you seen from James Folston the last couple weeks?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, I don't think he was good. I don't think as a whole we were as good. When you look at James Folston was really good a week ago, and he didn't stand out, but he didn't look like he didn't belong out there. Maybe based on some of the things we did, some of the things they did, he just wasn't able to give us what we want. But James did some good stuff, and he's really come a long way. He's playing faster. We've got to get him to play even faster, and we've got to get him getting better every week, not just, hey, one week we're here, next week we're below where we want to be.

Q. I understand there's a competition every week, but might you take a long look at Kenny Pickett this week?
PAT NARDUZZI: Are you asking or are you telling me?

Q. I'd never tell you.
PAT NARDUZZI: Sounds like you were -- you know, you guys are -- like you were back in high school with your girlfriends. She ain't good enough so I'm going to move on to the next one, just fire her and go get another girlfriend. But that's not how we -- we've got to have patience with who our guys are. You guys were fast to pull the trigger and you said, get Max out of there and put Ben in there and now you're fast to put the next guy in. If you treated them like that, we'd be in trouble.

Q. You talked about not wanting -- when you decided to give Kenny playing time, it wasn't just the decision you want to give him one snap.
PAT NARDUZZI: Right.

Q. At this point margin for error for extending your season is pretty small, so how do you weigh that, the opportunity to give him the time now or wait until the spring?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, we'll look at it. It all depends how you practice. That's the first thing. It depends on how you practice and how well you pick up the game plan, how well you understand what they're doing -- what we're doing offensively but also probably more importantly is what they're doing defensively, I think. But our ran game has been so good that you hate -- we can switch it up and then all of a sudden blow something else up that's pretty good, and then you guys will be going -- you'll be talking the other way.

The important thing is we're able to run the ball, and we slowly -- we're not going to just replace Nathan Peterman who, watching tape of last year, the guy was on fire and making good decisions and hanging in the pocket, but you don't replace him like that, so it's either have patience or not.

Q. Kenny has been playing and practicing with that first group for a month now. Has it been a case of regression or has it been maybe the more eyeballs you get the more things you notice?
PAT NARDUZZI: No, Kenny has done a great job. We've still got a lot of faith in him. It's more things weren't going bad. You've got two wins. You've got two wins and things are going good and all of a sudden you should have a third win. You're running the ball pretty good. You're stopping it, and all of a sudden now everybody wants to jump ship on the guy. If we make a change, you're going to be -- I think even when we made the change before, you guys are like, what are you making a change for, things were going good, and it's like you're doomed if you do, doomed if you don't. It's a feel thing by Coach Watson, the offensive staff, myself, and we'll play it by ear.

Q. You guys talked about taking steps forward and regressing --
PAT NARDUZZI: He did a great job scrambling and getting some yards, too. I wish he'd get vertical a little bit more instead of running sideways.

Q. Did he continue to progress in that game or was it a step back for a younger guy still early in his --
PAT NARDUZZI: You're saying in that game? I think he progressed in some things, and then some things you'd say -- but again, every front is different. Every play is a little bit different. You might throw this route concept pretty good on one play, and all of a sudden next time the three technique comes through and gets in your way, and it's like, did he progress or was the protection not as good. It's more than just one quarterback sitting in the pocket. But we threw a nice route, the one we took a sack on, I wish he would have got rid of it at the end. He throws a nice ball to Quadree and we gain a 1st down. I think I have an empty set, then we come back to the empty set later on and he can't see, he's got three technique in his face and he doesn't hang on to Quadree long enough to hit it to him. I think it could have been a completion and maybe a 1st down, but instead we take a sack. But it was a different look up front. There was a guy in his face and he couldn't really see or he put his eyes down and looked at the blitz or the guys coming at him and didn't keep his eyes on the coverage.

Q. Some of this predates your tenure here, but do you feel like this program from 2013 all the way through last year (indiscernible) grad transfers, does that sacrifice depth at that position, at quarterback?
PAT NARDUZZI: It was a problem when I got here, period. If you remember we had Chad Voytik and -- golly, we had one other big tall quarterback, Bertke, kind of reminded me a little bit of you, big dude, got a great arm. We had two guys on scholarship when I got here, so there was a need. We don't want to have to take another grad transfer quarterback, but if we have to, we're going to take the best available, but we're going to do what's best for this program going forward. You know, I don't know what happened prior to me. I just know when we got here, we had two scholarship quarterbacks, and we had Ben coming in. We just had -- we were a lot of youth at quarterback. We've got to slowly build that. You look at where we are now, without Max being out there playing, you've got a redshirt sophomore, you've got a freshman, and then we're going to have in the spring, we'll have a redshirt sophomore, a redshirt freshman, and we'll have a true freshman. There's not a whole lot of depth there. We need to build it slowly.

Q. You mentioned Thursday night not having Avonte has really hurt you. Do you anticipate him being back?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I think he could have been available Thursday night. I shouldn't say -- he was probable, wasn't he? I think that was your question. He probably could have gone, but I just didn't want to get him hurt. You play him for one and then lose him for the next two, I guess that's the dad in me. He wanted to go. He kept saying, get me -- we were going to play him on special teams. He was going to be a backup on Rangers, our punt coverage and all that, and just go down and make a tackle, wouldn't have to worry about covering anybody, but I anticipate him being ready to go.

Q. Is he in a half splint --
PAT NARDUZZI: He's played with it before. He played with it last year on the other arm, so it's the same thing. He'll be ready to go, and it won't affect him. It might help him break those arm tackles.

Q. What are your thoughts on Virginia Tech?
PAT NARDUZZI: Good question. Virginia Tech has obviously had a tough couple weekends, got beat by a good Georgia Tech team and obviously a top-four Miami team, wherever you rank them, very talented quarterback team. Obviously it starts with their defense. Bud Foster does a great job, has nine returning starters on defense. Offensively I think they have six returning starters from what we played against a year ago. They're a talented football team. They've had a tough two weeks. It's never easy when you go play at Georgia Tech against that option, and they caught them with a couple big plays on defense, which every once in a while you can, especially that offense. They had an 80-yard touchdown pass on them, and they didn't move the ball as well as usual. Georgia Tech is really salty on defense. It's a great conference.

Q. Is it more difficult to play a team that's had a good start against maybe -- assuming this is their last home game, they're going to be salty --
PAT NARDUZZI: We don't worry about that. We might have a team that comes in here undefeated and feels good maybe and you're going to have an angry -- what does it matter? We've got to be prepared. We're worried about the guys in this room and our kids got a great attitude. They came to work yesterday with a great attitude. That's the thing you love about these guys, and they're going to come out and fight. We can't worry about what they feel, we've got to worry about what we do and how we execute and what kind of focus we have.

Q. VT has got a really good return man, right up there with Quadree in the ACC, and you guys have given up two in the last four. Is that something you think is becoming a weakness for you guys or something you need to focus on more coming into this one?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, just go back and put the tape on. Our coverage has been pretty good. Whether we got the wrong people out there or we've got people that aren't making the play. Give the returner -- he had a great jump cut to the left and we got two guys go down. But we've got to make a tackle, but that could happen on any play, on offense or defense, and they made us miss when we missed it, and we should have taken a double team and stayed in our gap. There's a lot of little things that happened during that play, and we need to get it done. I'm not really concerned with our coverage team, although when you do give up a couple, there's going to be a lot more focus on it, which there was focus last week really. We were focused on -- Coach Powell goes nuts every day making sure nobody runs through our defense, and with Paris Ford backed out, back there returning, being kind of our scout returner, he's giving us a look every week, and so there's been more focus because he'll try to get loose on you. He's not taking off trying to make the coverage teams look good. So he's exposed us a little bit in practice, which has caused us to even focus more on it. So I am kind of shocked that we're falling down missing tackles.

Q. Will you switch up some of the guys on these units?
PAT NARDUZZI: Maybe. We shake it up all the time, so we grade them just like we do offense, defense. We grade out average winning and average losing, and if it's not good enough we try to find a guy that can replace him and make it better. A lot of those guys that were on there had gotten reps and know what to do, but if they don't execute and finish the play, then that's a problem. But then you may sacrifice the guy knowing what to do to have maybe a better athlete out there that doesn't know what to do but maybe he'll make a play. He might go the wrong way. So there's all those things that I know we all worry about.

Q. The running game, is it the details, the offensive line -- the details you talked about earlier in the season, or is it Darrin just maturing as a back?
PAT NARDUZZI: It's everything. I think you guys always ask -- you guys always want to point to one thing it is or isn't. We didn't have a run game, it was the quarterback, it was the running backs, it was the O-line. When it's clicking, they're all doing the right thing, and that's what I said, to make the quarterback move when we're clicking, at least we've got something going. There was a point where we didn't have anything going. It's really everybody doing it together. Brandon Hodge came in you saw nice job, as well, being physical. So really we played six linemen up front, and he did a nice job, which he showed that in practice the last couple weeks, so I'm happy for him. But the O-line is playing well. The tailbacks are hitting it. Schematically we're doing a good job game planning the run game.

Q. You talked about guys taking control of positions, has Aaron done that?
PAT NARDUZZI: I don't think there's any question about it. You look and say, what happened at Duke, can he do it again, and he did it again, and then, okay, can he do it again, and he has -- he's proved that he's got the ability. He's doing a good job setting up blocks. He's helping our O-line out. When you watch him, he's pressing the line of scrimmage, making everybody flow, then he cuts it back, makes the O-line better, and those are all things that I guess take a little bit of time to figure it out, but you watch how he sets it up. It's not just hitting a hole because the tailback cuts it back, then all of a sudden the linebackers come flowing over the top, the O-line doesn't have a chance, so there's a lot of things like that that are happening right now that is -- because he's pressing the line of scrimmage.

Q. How have you seen Elijah Zeise get better as the year goes on? I remember talking he had trouble with the wheel routes and things like that?
PAT NARDUZZI: He looked pretty good the other day, right? He had a great play on that and was in phase. He did a nice job. We got picked a couple times, too, I might add, but we got picked against Youngstown. He didn't get picked in that play against Youngstown. But he's gotten better. Mr. Zeise has played good, which is a little bit more physical in the run game, but he's a former wide out, so little by little we'll continue to get him better.

Q. 15 coaches were hired in 2015; seven of them are probably going to rest by the end of the season. Two of your predecessors in their third year are having a losing season, which is their last losing season. What is it about the third year that may be difficult to win?
PAT NARDUZZI: Nothing. It doesn't have to do anything with the number of years. I think -- Craig, did you ask this question a couple weeks ago? You weren't even paying attention. I knew it got asked over here somewhere. You guys got these assigned seats, so I knew it was on the left side. But it's not the years. It's the people you have. It's the competition. It's the match-ups. It's all those things. If Nathan Peterman was back here in the third year, we'd probably be pretty happy, right? Would you be happy? I think we'd be a little bit different football program right now, and then you wouldn't be talking about the third year. It all depends how many guys graduated, how many didn't, are you an older team, and every coach that gets a job back in 2015 or whatever it was, it's not -- everybody has got a different situation. So I think you can look at those stats and the number of coaches hired and this and that and the third year --

Q. Recruiting class, though, the first couple, some young guys that haven't developed fully yet.
PAT NARDUZZI: Right, right. They've got to grow up quick. They're not young anymore. I'm done with that.

Q. You don't talk about the old stuff, but when you've got such a young team, you don't get to six wins or five or whatever, if you don't get in you lose the opportunity to get extra practices. As a coach --
PAT NARDUZZI: It bothers you but we'll amp it up in spring ball. We'll get those 15 days. It might be a few extra hours in those practices. Yeah, that's obviously a negative for everybody, and it can -- it can be a positive, too, as far as just the -- a lot of times you try to develop the young guys in bowl, but you're so worried about winning the bowl game that you don't develop them as much as you want, and all you're doing is continuing to beat up the guys that have gotten beat up all year and you end up having a tired, beat-up football team when it comes to spring ball. I mean, I know this, coming to spring ball when you think about that last year, we only had this many guys, and this year because we'll have a few less seniors, we'll have more young guys. It'll be a -- it'll be a good spring. So that'll help us.

Q. What do you think of the Virginia Tech quarterback, a redshirt freshman, I think?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, redshirt freshman, dad coached at Michigan for a long time, great coach. He's talented. I don't know what his stats are here. But throws a nice deep ball as you guys know. We'll be working our tail off on the fades and the back shoulder fades that they threw a ton of, and we didn't see a lot of them coming into last year's game, but you see a lot of them on tape now. It's something that they've gotten good at. He's thrown 17 TDs and six interceptions, so he's got a pretty good ratio there and throws a good fade, throws a lot of underneath stuff. They keep it simple for a young guy with his concepts. You're not seeing a ton of different concepts but a lot of simple concepts, screens he's been very good at, and he'll throw a good fade. We've got to cover the deep ball.

Q. How is this team developing compared to some other --
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, I'm getting so old I forget, but you're happy -- it's a slow process. You're happy with some of the things you see and then there's regression in some parts. You're worried about this, so you focus, focus, focus, and all of a sudden they forgot about that, and I think it's part of the process. Wherever your focus is you see improvement, but you can't focus on everything, but you try to focus on everything, the focus is everything, but when you try to improve on one minor detail, that improves, but then something else goes wrong. But that's part of the youth because they're not seeing the whole picture.

Q. When you were anticipating the season, the off-season, did you anticipate that some of these things happen?
PAT NARDUZZI: You never anticipate. You guys always ask how are you going to be in preseason because you're playing against yourself. You never know what you're going to have. That's why -- the first game of the season is so important to find out where you are, and that's when you find out where your weaknesses are and you make that improvement from one to two as far as games go. So you really don't -- as a coach you worry and you anticipate problems, I guess, but I guess you're a little bit more positive than negative, I guess.

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