On Monday, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi announced that his players would be shunned from the media and that he would close doors to Pitt’s practices all week in preparation of Pitt’s highly-anticipated bout with Penn State at Heinz Field.
A little excessive? From the outside looking in, perhaps. But things begin to make sense once Narduzzi’s perspective is considered. This is, after all, a huge game.
Narduzzi could be looking out for Pitt’s fan base. He knows and understands the harassment – in-person and more recently online – that both teams’ fans have flung at each other since 1893.
He could also be looking out for his players and Pitt’s former players, both of whom need a Pitt win to guarantee sound sleep the rest of the season.
But the above theories lack substance. What truly matters at the end of the day for Narduzzi is how Pitt can numerically place itself at an advantage. This is why Narduzzi's emphasis on the Penn State game could be tied to recruiting battles.
It’s no secret that Narduzzi is in a heated race with Penn State coach James Franklin for high school players across the Northeast and Midwest. Since 2012, the year that Pitt eldest statesman Ejuan Price penned his pledge to Todd Graham and the Panthers, Pitt has gotten its clock cleaned by Penn State even though the two teams never played during that time.
Thirty-two of Penn State’s current 85 scholarship players chose the Nittany Lions over offers from Pitt. Meanwhile, just 14 current Pitt players chose Pitt over an offer from Penn State.
Narduzzi has seemingly shifted away from traditional Pitt coach-led recruiting tactics this year. He’s branched away out from the local backwoods and instead extended many offers – and received a few commitments from – high school seniors from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas and even Canada.
Additionally, he has voluntarily entered his name into traditional recruiting sweepstakes with Franklin in New Jersey, Ohio, the DMV area and, in some capacity, Western Pa.
On Saturday, it’s expected that some of those players from the DMV area, eastern Pa. and New Jersey make the trek to Heinz Field to see two schools they are considering square off.
If there is any substantial rhyme or reason for Pitt to win Saturday, it is to garner the attention of these high school prospects. There are 13 scholarship players from Pennsylvania (outside the WPIAL/City League) on Penn State’s roster who held Pitt offers. There are zero on Pitt’s roster from the same area who held Penn State offers.
There are eight current Penn State players from the DMV area who held Pitt offers in high school. Pitt has zero from the DMV area who held Penn State offers.
In New Jersey, Penn State has beaten out Pitt for six of its current scholarship players. Pitt has beaten out Penn State for just two there.
It also wouldn’t hurt to impress the WPIAL/City League players who will patrol the sidelines and post up in sec. 140 for the duration of the game. Pitt has beaten out Penn State 8-to-5 in Western Pa., a number that could always improve, for the teams’ current roster members.
There are a combined eight prospects from the 2017 season that have offers from both Pitt and Penn State and reside in either Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Florida or the DMV area. There are three 2017 WPIAL prospects and three 2018 WPIAL prospects who share offers from Pitt and Penn State.
It’s no secret that there lay some bad blood between Narduzzi and Franklin. Narduzzi presumably threw shade at Franklin’s utilization of quarterback Christian Hackenberg last year when he said that, “You could have a talented quarterback with a bad play-caller and make him look bad… You see that around the country, some closer than others.”
Franklin has since criticized an unnamed school for its “creepy” recruiting tactics. Both staffs have sent jabs at each other on Twitter.
In the past two recruiting cycles, Narduzzi has lost on 24 prospects who chose Penn State, while a mere eight chose Pitt over Franklin and co.
On Monday, I asked Narduzzi if he is in communication with Franklin. His reply: “We don’t vacation together… I’m lucky I’m in touch with my wife. I don’t have time for anybody else.”
Whichever coach comes out on the winning side Saturday could, though, come out on the winning side in recruiting and enjoy a more relaxing vacation this offseason.null