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Pass rush key to Narduzzi's 5-1 start

Pat Narduzzi's defensive reputation has preceded him so far, with the Pitt defense leading the league in sacks.

Pat Narduzzi has the Pitt Panthers ranked for the first time in five years and atop the ACC Coastal Division with a 5-1 record halfway through his first season as head coach.

Narduzzi won the 2013 Broyles Award and forged a reputation as one of the nation’s top assistants behind his elite defenses at Michigan State. So far, that reputation’s been well-met.

Pitt’s defense ranks 17th nationally allowing 300.8 yards per game behind a pass rush that leads the ACC with 22 sacks in six games. Sacks and tackles for loss are playing a massive role in the Panthers’ early success under Narduzzi.

“If you’re getting tackles for losses and sacks it helps you,” Narduzzi said. “It gets you off the field on third down.”

When Pitt’s pressure overwhelms opposing offenses, especially early in a series, it sets the defense up to halt a drive. The Panthers average a league-best 3.67 sacks per game, meaning the defense is putting itself in positions to succeed.

“Anytime you’re sacking the quarterback good things are going to happen for you on the next down,” Narduzzi said, “because they’re behind the sticks and it makes it a little easier for the playcaller to call a defense.”

11 Panthers own at least one sack this season, led by linebacker Matt Galambos’ four quarterback takedowns. End Ejuan Price ranks second on the team with 3 1/2 sacks and is a player Narduzzi calls “scary” when rushing the passer.

Shakir Soto bookends the line with Price and has two sacks. Behind them, outside linebackers Mike Caprara and Nicholas Grigsby each have a pair.

“Inside, we’ve got a group of tackles that can push the pocket,” Narduzzi said. “Our four-man pressure’s been good and we’ve been dialing up some zone pressures that have helped us.”

Tyrique Jarrett is one of those tackles creating pressure on the interior, with 1 1/2 sacks with 5 1/2 tackles for loss this season. He, like many other players, enjoy playing in Narduzzi’s simplified system that’s allowed many players like himself to excel.

“First of all it’s just exciting,” Jarrett said. “It’s the energy we all bring to the table.”

Center Artie Rowell and the rest of Pitt’s offensive line face the energetic pass rush that’s dominated on Saturdays daily in practice. He says their visibly-arduous work in the middle of the week translates to success on gamedays.

“They are non-stop,” Rowell said. “Our defensive players are soaked from head-to-toe when they come off the practice field.”

Come Saturday, he’s glad those defenders wear the same uniform he does.

“They are all over the field,” Rowell said. “They’re getting pressure on the quarterback.”

And while there is a certain degree of strategy that goes into Pitt’s defensive schemes, Jarrett doesn’t think there’s a secret to the Panthers’ success rushing opposing passers.

“I think it’s our coaches letting us be us,” Jarrett said. “Letting us execute and letting us do what we’re good at. There’s really nothing to it, it’s just us doing what we’re doing best.”

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