Pitt Football Should Move On From Pat Narduzzi and His Outdated Defensive Schemes

I was at the game on Saturday for the Pitt Panther’s 44-41 loss to the Western Michigan University Broncos.  I knew the 15.5 point spread in Pitt’s favor could prove itself to be too large even against a MAC conference opponent, but I certainly still expected Pitt to win.  At the tailgate beforehand, we were already discussing how Pitt could start the season 4-0 with a win next week against New Hampshire for the first time since 2000.  And maybe even 5-0 for the first time since 1991.

I instead experienced many negative emotions on my walk back from Heinz Field to the parking lot.  I told myself I should take a few days, digest the loss, and then see how I felt about the program.  Spoiler:  I’m still angry.

Completely and Entirely Outcoached

I don’t care if my team is outplayed by a superior effort by the opponent.  If a team’s offense is better than my team’s defense that day, or vice versa, it is what it is.  That’s why they play the game and don’t just simulate it on paper.  Any team can win on any given day. 

I do get angry, however, when my team is clearly outcoached and unprepared relative to their opponent.  Pat Narduzzi was outcoached on Saturday and WMU was visibly more prepared than the Pitt Panthers.

The most damaging quote about Narduzzi’s approach to the game came from WMU’s head coach Tim Lester  in his post-game interview.  I will provide the full tweet string for the quote from AP Sports Writer in Pittsburgh, Will Graves, so I do not get accused of taking it out of context:

Lester must have realized he was ruining any good graces Naduzzi had left with Pitt fans when he mentioned the 'respect’ he has for the Pitt coach.  However, is there a more fireable offense than running nearly the exact same game plan as you were running over five years ago?  If anyone with a half decent football mind can watch your game film and replicate your game plan, what is the university paying you for?  It’s lazy, unacceptable, and humiliating.

But ultimately this makes Saturday’s failure that much clearer.  If you missed it, the game could be summed up in two sentences.  Kenny Pickett was really good.  The Panther secondary was really really bad.  Add in there that every play had either an injury or a penalty and you have essentially watched all four hours of the game now. 

On 37 attempts, WMU quarterback Kaleb Eleby completed 23 passes for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Bronco receiver Corey Crooms averaged 20+ yards per his 8 receptions for 161 yards receiving.  Any incompletions for the Broncos were on their own unforced errors.  The Panther secondary was three steps behind the receivers they were attempting to cover all afternoon.

At the time, I couldn’t figure out how this was the case.  WMU came into the game as a run-first offense.  Meanwhile, Pitt came in with one of the best front sevens in the nation.  On paper, it was setting up for a great game for the Panther defense.

I mean sure, the Panther secondary was lousy against UMass and Tennessee.  We knew they had gotten bailed out by bad quarterbacks, especially Joe Milton in the first half of the Tennessee game.  However, Eleby was not coming into the game as a Heisman candidate by any means.  The Panthers were expected to create pressure on Eleby to help out the secondary like they did the past two games.  Unfortunately, the pressure we have become accustomed to from the Pitt front seven was non-existent. 

But how are the players expected to perform well when the opposing coach is in the Panthers defensive huddle?  Lester stating that all he had to do to prepare for Narduzzi’s pass rush was to watch one five year old game over and over is infuriating.  

The point of a head coach is that he has the football knowledge to game plan exclusively each week for his opponent.  It has now been exposed that Narduzzi has the inability to do so.  It is now very clear why the Broncos were so effective.  However, gaining this clarity just made room for more anger.  I am done with Pat Narduzzi.

Below Average Coach

At this point, what functions of the job is Narduzzi above average or even average?  He is a “defensive specialist” who is constantly carried by his team’s offense.  His recruiting classes are perennially in the bottom half of the ACC and in the bottom third of the nation. 

Narduzzi did finally have his 2021 recruiting class boosted to No. 5 in the ACC with three 4-star recruits, but does that mean you give this guy another four years to see this class develop?  I think not.  

Frankly, Pitt would be nothing this season without Kenny Pickett and he is gone for sure after this season.  Let’s start next year fresh with a new coach and a new quarterback.

Or maybe even start now with the fresh coach.  Panther fans have waited seven years for Narduzzi to get the defense together and it’s getting worse.  If another head coach could step in, inherit a 5th-year quarterback, a competent offensive coordinator, and a great defensive front seven, then why keep someone around who is running the same schemes he drew up in 2015?  

I don’t know what more is to be expected from Pat Narduzzi.  He has been given a much longer leash than most get in Power 5 football programs.  His time is up.  Let someone else come in and provide something that is newer than a 2015 defensive scheme.