Pat Narduzzi’s players didn’t have much to do over the weekend. Aside from a standard injury check Friday, the last few days were theirs to do with what they wished after their head coach gave Pittsburgh’s players little instruction but to enjoy themselves.
None of the Panthers enjoyed Pitt’s 26-19 loss to North Carolina Thursday, which knocked Pitt out of first place in the ACC Coastal Division and the national rankings. After the short week, Narduzzi gave his players extra time to recover and prepare to rebound from the loss.
But the time for rest is over as No. 8 Notre Dame visits Heinz Field Saturday.
“They bring in a great football team,” Narduzzi said of the Fighting Irish. “Obviously very well-coached, a Top 10 football team that’s probably one of the most talented teams that will walk into Heinz Field this year.”
If not the most talented, the Irish are at least the highest-ranked opponent Pitt figures to play this season.
The last four games between the teams have been decided by an average of 4-1/2 points. Notre Dame last visited Pittsburgh in 2013, when the Panthers beat the then-No. 23 Irish 28-21.
A year earlier, an unranked Pitt team took then-No. 2 Notre Dame to the wire in South Bend, Ind., before losing in triple overtime.
“We’ve got to focus on us,” Narduzzi said. “It’s not about what North Carolina did Thursday, it’s about what we didn’t do.”
One thing Pitt didn’t do Thursday was wrap up dynamic North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams, who threw for two touchdowns and evaded four or five sacks in Narduzzi’s estimation. The Panthers led the ACC in sacks after five weeks but have only one in their last three games while facing mobile quarterbacks.
Defensive lineman Darryl Render noted the need for Pitt’s defense to focus back in on the little things as it prepares this week.
Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer is next in line and Narduzzi hopes his team learned its lesson from the previous three weeks.
“You’re going to have to put your chest on him,” Narduzzi said, “not just your hands. You’ve got to put your chest on him. When you have an opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Render and the rest of Pitt’s front seven has had chances to bring down opposing quarterbacks lately, but haven’t capitalized.
“We’ve got to do a better job of keeping him in the pocket,” Render said. “Pass rush lanes are going to be huge this week like they’ve been in the last couple weeks so seeing how the last couple teams exploited our holes and stuff like that, we can try to get that stuff corrected.”
- Tyler Boyd did not finish Thursday's game with what Narduzzi said was a bruise, but the head coach expects to have his best player at 100 percent.
"Tyler’s good," Narduzzi said. "He ran yesterday and he’s ready to go. No question he’ll be ready to go. I don’t want him getting hit like he normally would be but he’ll be fine."
- Another player who didn't finish the game was Lafayette Pitts, who was burned by Mack Hollins for a 32-yard score in the second quarter. He was effectively benched for the defense's final few possessions but Narduzzi says the senior captain will be a starter yet again, as reflected on the depth chart.
"[Pitts] just wasn’t playing good at that point," Narduzzi said, "they were going after him and it was better to get him out of there and see what another guy did. Ryan Lewis came in, I think he had 27 snaps and did well. It was good to get someone else in there."
- In that same group was Qadree Ollison who was absent for nearly the entire fourth quarter after he expressed displeasure when a quarterback run was called for Nate Peterman on a 3rd and 1 at the Pitt 29 to start the final period. He and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney exchanged words on the sidelines, and Ollison did not play the rest of the game. He was Pitt's most effective back Thursday, carrying 10 times for 54 yards and a touchdown, in a game the Panthers struggled to run the ball and did so down the stretch when rushing despite facing a two-score deficit for almost all of the fourth quarter. Moving forward, it appears everything is fine between Ollison and the coaches.
"We talked to him," Narduzzi said. "Coach Chaney talked to him immediately during the game. Qadree’s good, Qadree’s a great kid. I hope he’d be emotional, I want him to feel like that. It was good for us at Georgia Tech but you can’t act like that and go overboard, I guess."
- For the first time this season, a Pitt player did not receive a weekly honor from the ACC.