Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Narduzzi Era - Year One

Well, I am bit late with this post, but better late than never, right?  In any event, I thought I would post some thoughts on the just concluded football season of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, the first season under Head Coach Pat Narduzzi.

On the PLUS side:

  • Pitt started the season with a 6-1 record and were in contention for the Coastal Division title of the Atlantic Coast conference.
  • The team went 5-1 in regular season road games.
  • Including their Military Bowl game, the team finished 8-5, a better record than in the previous four seasons under Graham and Chryst.
  • The did this despite losing the reigning ACC Player of the Year, James Conner, in the first quarter of the first game of the season.
  • The team showed a remarkable ability to come from behind and win games, and to make "halftime adjustments" after poor starts and come back and win football games.  Credit to Narduzzi and his Staff for this.  He does seem to be an excellent game day coach.
  • There seems to be a lot of talent at the skill positions, particularly running backs and wide outs.  Losing Conner could have been devastating, but his replacements picked right up and carried the load.
  • The team seems to have uncovered a bona fide two-way star in Central Valley's Jordan Whitehead, the ACC Rookie of the Year.  He is going to be fun to watch over the next two or three (most likely only two) years.
  • All of this was accomplished after the turmoil of yet another coaching change at the end of 2014 and of Narduzzi starting late and getting only 15 recruits signed on for 2015.  It will be interesting to see what happens when he gets a couple of full recruiting classes over the next few years.
On the MINUS side:
  • Despite that gaudy road record, they only broke even, 3-3, at home.
  • Once again in 2015, it can be argued that the team failed to get a "signature" win.  They came close at Iowa, against a team that finished the regular season at 12-0.  They came up well short against teams like Notre Dame, North Carolina, Miami, and in the Military Bowl, Navy.  In fact, Pitt hasn't won a game of this nature since beating Notre Dame at Heinz Field in 2013.
  • Losses to North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Miami, by 7, 12, and 5 points, respectively, appear to be closer than they actually were.  Pitt was never in those games, and in that loss to Miami, they appeared to be unprepared and uninterested.  That can happen to teams over the course of a season, but to see it in the final game of the year, on Senior Day, when Which Bowl Are You Going To was at stake was very disappointing.
  • The 44-28 loss to Navy in the Military Bowl (again, that 16 point margin is deceiving; the nature of Navy's dominance in that game was way larger than that score would indicate) was really disappointing.  For he first time all season, Pitt appeared to be completely out-coached in a game, but don't take my word for it.  By his own admission, Narduzzi said that they were totally unprepared for what Keenan Reynolds (and would you be surprised to see him on the Joint Chiefs of Staff someday?) and Navy threw at Pitt, and they were unable to stop it.  Gotta give Narduzzi a lot of credit for honesty there.
  • Shortly after the Bowl game, Tyler Boyd announced that he was leaving Pitt to enter the NFL Draft.  That was not unexpected, but still, big shoes for the Panthers to fill next year.  
All in all, though, I think there is more to be excited about than not, more so than at any time during the Paul Chryst Era.  As I said, I am anxious to see what Narduzzi can do with his own players.  It's not going to get any easier next year with non-conference games against Penn State (and really, should Pitt not be favored in that home game?) and Oklahoma State in Stillwater, and ACC road games against Miami, North Carolina, and, oh, yeah, Clemson.

Of course, Pitt football was hit with a sobering piece of Real Life news late in the year when James Conner revealed that he had lymphoma and was about to begin several rounds of chemotherapy.  That put a lot of things into perspective.  This is one form of cancer from which people can recover (Mario Lemieux, for example), so there is hope that Conner will be one of them.  How great would it be to see #24 leading the Panthers out of the tunnel against Villanova on September 3?

Let's Go Pitt!


  1. Hi Bob,

    Your observations are spot on and logical. My memories include some emotional, knee-jerk reactions to what when on this year, and as you have stated, we had a lot to be happy for.

    As you may know, I also follow UCLA. Not with the same passion as folling Pitt, but my daughter is a student there, so I follow their discussion boards and news about that team. This was a interesting year for both - for different reasons.

    When Chryst resigned, I was resigned to accept another "rebuilding year," not expecting to finish above .500. When we named a first-year head coach to run the Pitt program, I was unimpressed. We'll see... (In the meantime UCLA has an A-list coach in Jim Mora.) UCLA was predicted to be in the final four, and possibly with it all. Pitt was projected to land on the bottom half of the ACC rankings at year end.

    Pitt recruiting was lack-luster, while UCLA announced another of signing of a 4 or 5 star player every day (or so it seemed). But something happened between those signings and the start of the season (good coaching, perhaps?) The Pitt players really stepped up, while I saw UCLA lose some of those big names, including Snoop Dog's son who decided to quit football and persue music (go figure), and a guy who was highly celebrated when UCLA won him from a host of top drawer suiters - a guy named Chris Clark. (They also had a little incident when Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy) threatened a coach with a weigh, because of dissatisfation of how his kid was being coached. The kid, remarkably, stayed in the program.)

    Both teams suffered unimaginable injuires before the season got going. UCLA lost three key players before the first game, but what could compare to the loss of James Connor? a true leader on an off the field. Could the team recover? By then my expectations dropped, and I hoped that Pitt could win a game or two, and not be mortally embarassed in the season. UCLA also lost Myles Jack, a running back that is sure to go in the NFL draft's first few rounds, but that injury came well past the half-way mark of the season.

    The two teams, dispite their drastically different starts, performed rather similarly. As the season progressed, both teams had stellar starts, leading their divisions for several weeks. But UCLA dropped with a loss to Stanford, while Pitt stayed competitive in ACC until that fateful meeting with NC. UCLA and Pitt both lingered at the bottom of the top 25 at near year end, and both accepted bowl bids that disappointed their fans and alumni. They both lost those bowls.

    The point is that teams start with uneven playing fields (excuse the pun), and it's what happens in their training, discipline and coaching that makes a difference in outcomes. (and a little luck) Narduzzi and company produced all and more than I could have hoped for at the beginning of the season (thank you team!). Although we suffered important losses in the end, the team is a success in every way, and the program should be proud of all their accomplishments.

    I look forward to the next years. With a host of spectacular recruits and returning players with this year's experiences under their belts, Pitt is sure to shine. By the way, they also nabbed a 5 star, whose eligibility is in 2017 I believe. Chris Clark is no longer a Bruin - he is a Panther!

    With stability in the coaching office, a supportive administration, and a fan base second to none, Pitt should return to its prominence. But whether we win,or whether we lose, who's the team we'll always choose?


  2. Insert more Pitt script news!!!!!