What a difference a week makes because at this time a week ago the Oklahoma State Cowboys were in both of the major top 25 college football polls and looking like a potential College Football Playoff contender. The Pittsburgh Panthers were a top 25 team in Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy's estimation. That is what he saw with his staff this summer in the early analysis of the week number three opponent.
Now, after one of the strangest finishes to a college football game this side of the calendar from the fifth down game with Colorado at Missouri back in 1991, Oklahoma State is out of the top 25 polls and 1-1 following a 30-27 loss to Central Michigan and Pittsburgh is soaring at 2-0, getting votes for the polls, and following a 16-year hiatus the Panthers beat arch-rival Penn State 42-29.
Speaking with Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi on the ACC coaches teleconference, he has some concern about the emotional entry of the teams on Saturday in Stillwater, particularly his own. Narduzzi wants to make sure the anger he saw in his players last week is still around.
"I'm not worried about their (Oklahoma State) mindset; I only worry about our mindset," Narduzzi clarified. "I would guess they are going to be pretty upset and angry. I would imagine we're going to be walking into an angry stadium on Saturday. I'm sure coach Mike Gundy will have them ready to go like he always does. He's a heck of a football coach. He is an emotional guy and he will have those guys cranked up and ready to go."
Pittsburgh showed some new wrinkles in the Penn State win as Narduzzi also bragged about how happy he was to finally get Matt Canada to be his offensive coordinator.
"I tried initially when I first got to Pitt, but he was tied up at N.C. State, but this second time I was able to get him to come to Pittsburgh," Narduzzi said. "I had worked with him and knew what a good coach he is."
The power game that has been a personality and offensive staple of the Panthers is now mixed with some jet-action, some triple-option incorporating some run-pass-option concepts. There are new wrinkles in the passing game too. James Conner is back from fighting cancer and rushed for 117 yards and scored two touchdowns last week, but there are other weapons to use such as track speedster Quadree Henderson, tight end Scott Orndoff, freshman receiver Tre Tipton, and more.
"All of our guys have skill and can run different plays," Narduzzi said. "I felt bad for Jaymar [Parrish] after the game because we wanted to get him a couple of touches, too. He can move as well. He's special with the ball in his hands.
"We will spread it around a little more. Even Tre Tipton and Rafael Araujo-Lopes know what to do, it's not just the Quadree Henderson show. It was just a matter of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. Coach [Matt] Canada has a great feel for what he wants to do each game. All of those plays we have against Villanova, we still have in our playbook. We ran a couple Saturday as well. We're still going to go back to that. We just looked at personnel match-ups and identified where we can confuse a team."
Narduzzi didn't do back flips over the passing game, which after two games is averaging 133.0 yards per game, but he sees it as a work in progress that will continue to improve.
"It was solid. There were some things we left on the field in the running game," said the head coach. "But when you rush for 350 yards, who wants to throw it? A lot of our passing game we haven't really seen yet I guess. I feel great about Nate [Peterman]. He was on fire. He had a super game and he played well enough for us to win a football game. Even the interception was not his fault. That ball hit Dontez [Ford] in the hands and the helmet. He had one overthrow on a break-contain pass. Nathan [Peterman] played a great game."
Defensively, Pitt is stout. That is Narduzzi's background having last served as defensive coordinator at Michigan State. He is aggressive, but facing an offense like Oklahoma State out of the Big 12 is slightly unfamiliar in the Big 12 and just a little more common in the ACC.
"There are a bunch of different coverage adjustments we're going to have to make," Narduzzi said. "They are fast and their wideouts can play. Quarterback Mason Rudolph runs the show and their two wideouts Jalen McCleskey and James Washington are blazers.
"There are some different things we need to do coverage-wise to eliminate the big plays. They like to chuck it deep, so we will be ready for that. They get into some max splits where they are really spreading you out. At the same time, we need to try to stop the run because they like to run the ball. It will be a challenge. They score a lot of points, they like to score points."
Pitt likes to sack quarterbacks. They have 10 sacks in their first two games.
"I give credit to the coaches for coaching them up," Narduzzi answered. "I think we're keeping it simple enough that these guys can go play. Schemes are important, but if you don't have guys that are playing fast and confident then schemes don't mean anything. We teach them to know what to do and execute it quickly. We have guys that are buying in to what we are coaching and understand what is going on. That's the key factor."
Hard-nosed, old-school football is what you will be getting on Saturday with a little modern flavor mixed in. It'll be fun to see if Pitt can handle the modern flavor and if Oklahoma State remembers old school because it used to be something they did a lot.