Business
332
Sports
321
Sport
593
Politica
637

Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt is harder to figure out than usual, which is saying a lot

Pat Narduzzi

The Panthers took another step back in 2018 ... but won the ACC Coastal anyway.

Bill C’s annual preview series of every FBS team in college football continues. Catch up here!

Any decent high school prospect can put together a highlight film that makes him look like a star. Any major football program can put together a year-in-review highlight film that makes it seem like they went undefeated. And any head coach can put together a pretty strong achievements list after a while.

Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi can do better than most after his four years in charge.

Here they are in 2015, beating three bowl teams to improve from six to eight wins in his first season. In 2016, beating eventual national champion Clemson in Death Valley, on Chris Blewitt’s last-second field goal. In 2016, riding comeback kid James Conner and quarterback Nathan Peterman to a No. 4 ranking in Off. S&P+. In 2017, beating No. 2 Miami in freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett’s first career start. In 2018, coming back from 11 points down to beat Duke, then riding that momentum to four straight wins and a first-ever ACC Coastal title.

Top-five wins ... division title ... that’s a hell of a coaching job right there! Narduzzi is building something ferocious in the Steel City! About that:

Per S&P+, Pitt has actually regressed in three of its four seasons under Narduzzi. The 2016 team took a decent step to 23rd overall, but the Panthers fell to 47th and 61st in the next two seasons. They were 4-7 when Miami came to town in 2017, and 2018 comes with a “Well, somebody had to win this horrid division” asterisk.

To be sure, Pitt’s good fortune has changed of late. For years, the Panthers were an “almost” program. They were oh, so close to a breakthrough in Dave Wannstedt’s final seasons, but they lost three games by a total of 11 points in 2009, then went 1-3 in one-possession games in 2010. Then, in three years under Paul Chryst, they went 5-10 in such games, 1-5 in what should have been an excellent 2014.

Under Narduzzi, the close-game gods have been a hair kinder: Pitt’s 12-13 in one-possession finishes. And they perfectly timed a month’s worth of solid play in 2018, which allowed them to scoop up the Coastal crown that no one else wanted. But outside of that month, they went 3-7 last fall.

Pitt continues to rack up achievements while watching its foundation crumble. Four years in, I can’t even give a decent answer to the question, “Is Narduzzi doing a good job?” I can’t really tell what is in store.

I also can’t really figure out what to think about Pitt in 2019, as the Panthers’ strengths and weaknesses could completely flip. In 2018, Pitt rode a dominant run game (11th in Rushing S&P+) to compensate for a bad passing game (103rd in Passing S&P+). The defense benefited from an aggressive, occasionally play-making front while giving up too many gashes in the back.

In 2019, the Panthers return Pickett for a second full season of starting and bring back just about every wide receiver, too. Their secondary is loaded with experience as well.

They also lose just about all of their best players. Running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall combined for 2,357 yards and 21 touchdowns. They’re gone, as are four starters on the offensive line, two of last year’s top three defensive linemen, and three of last year’s top four linebackers.

So the strengths get weaker, the weaknesses get stronger, and the Panthers become even blurrier than normal.

I am rather confident, however, in saying another Coastal crown is going to be difficult. Per S&P+, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and UNC are projected to improve, Tech by quite a bit. On paper, Miami and Virginia were already better than the Panthers last year, and they could take further steps forward while Pitt is projected to stand still. Granted, they both have to come to Heinz Field this fall, but the road to a repeat is going to be tricky.

 Offense

Pickett has most certainly made his moments count. He was 18-for-29 and steady enough to guide the Panthers ahead of imploding Miami in the last game of 2017, and he was brilliant in three of the four games during Pitt’s title-clinching streak last fall.

Against Duke, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest, he completed 64 percent of his passes at 16.5 yards per completion, with six touchdowns, no picks, and a passer rating of 187.4. That’s between Kyler Murray-ish and Will Grier-ish. Receivers Taysir Mack and Maurice Ffrench combined for 26 yards per catch and five touchdowns in these three games.

In last year’s other 11 games, he completed 57 percent of his passes at just 9.4 yards per completion, with six touchdowns, six interceptions, and a ghastly 104.6 passer rating, worse than that of Miami’s N’Kosi Perry. Mack and Ffrench: 15 yards per catch, two touchdowns.

Pickett, Mack, and Ffrench return, and that’s good. But how good are they? The upside is obvious, but there’s been no semblance of consistency.

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Pittsburgh vs Stanford Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports Kenny Pickett

In an attempt to coax a bit more out of the offense in general, Narduzzi brought in a wise old hand: former UMass head coach Mark Whipple, who replaces Shawn Watson as offensive coordinator.

Once regarded as a pro-style innovator as head coach at Brown and UMass in the 1990s, Whip served as quarterbacks coach for the Steelers and Browns, coaxing a 3,300-yard season out of Miami’s Jacory Harris in 2009 as well. In his second stint as UMass’ head man, he never got the defense or run game where he wanted it, but the Minutemen could pass.

Despite dealing with QB injuries, UMass produced 3,577 passing yards and a 153.9 passer rating (16th in FBS) last fall. Whipple might not have a lot left in the tank as a head coach, but until proven otherwise, he’s still a QB whisperer. I like this move, and considering what star WR Andy Isabella did for UMass last year, Ffrench and Mack should like it, too.

This was basically a three-man receiving corps last year, and one of the three (Rafael Araujo-Lopes) is gone, so it would really help if someone like senior Tre Tipton, sophomore Shocky Jacques-Louis, or sophomore Dontavius Butler-Jenkins stepped up.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports Taysir Mack

UMass ran the ball just 51 percent of the time on standard downs (112th in FBS) and 30 percent on passing downs (95th), each well below the national average and miles away from Pitt’s own tendencies (70 percent and 43 percent, respectively). But considering the run personnel Pitt loses, this might be the time for a drastic stylistic change.

Ollison and Hall were really good. Despite an unreliable passing game and run-heavy tendencies, they each made the most of the running lanes they found, combining for a 47 percent success rate and 26 carries of 20-plus yards.

Granted, their replacements produced similar numbers on a smaller scale — over 61 carries, A.J. Davis, V’Lique Carter, and Mychale Salahuddin combined for a 56 percent success rate and three carries of 20-plus yards.

Throw in four-star sophomore Todd Sibley Jr., and you’ve perhaps got more than enough talent in the backfield. But the experience level drops significantly, both at RB and on the line. Center Jimmy Morrissey has started 23 games for the Panthers; all other returnees have combined for nine starts, and five of those were at another school (Michigan transfer Nolan Ulizio was a part-timer for the Wolverines in 2017).

 Defense

Just because you fielded good defenses as a coordinator doesn’t mean that’ll carry over when you become a head coach. Plenty of former defensive coordinators have become known more for offense as head coaches (Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, for instance).

It’s still jarring, though, to see Pitt’s defensive numbers. In Narduzzi’s last four seasons as Michigan State’s coordinator, he and boss Mark Dantonio fielded defenses that ranked ninth, second, third, and 14th in Def. S&P+. In his first four seasons at Pitt, the Panthers have ranked 35th, 75th, 48th, and 53rd. That’s not horrible, but instead of growing stronger as Narduzzi’s recruits have filled the two deep, Pitt’s defense has basically stayed the same, even after Randy Bates took over as coordinator last season.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports Rashad Weaver

Attrition could mean sketchy depth in 2019. Pitt could theoretically field a starting lineup of all juniors and seniors with almost nothing but unproven freshmen and sophomores as backups. A run of injury, especially in the front seven, could lead to total collapse.

That starting 11 could still be pretty good, though. End Rashad Weaver (14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, four pass breakups) returns, and while Dewayne Hendrix is gone, junior Patrick Jones II could be ready for more responsibility. Three of last year’s top four tackles are also back, led by senior Amir Watts. The linebacking corps is pretty unproven, but the line should do the LBs some favors.

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports Dane Jackson

Last year’s secondary was all-or-nothing — 32nd in completion rate allowed, 90th in passing marginal explosiveness — which is certainly more exciting than simply being average. And in cornerback Dane Jackson (four TFLs, 14 breakups, four forced fumbles), the most all-or-nothing piece returns. So do safeties Damar Hamlin and Jazzee Stocker. If any youngster breaks into the starting lineup, though, it’ll probably be sophomore Paris Ford, a local and former blue-chipper whose career started slowly but still has plenty of time to pick up.

 Special Teams

Pitt’s been consistent, if nothing else, in special teams: the Panthers have ranked between 60th and 82nd in all of Narduzzi’s seasons. Place-kicker Alex Kessman improved by quite a bit as a sophomore and ranked 10th in field goal efficiency, but the rest of the unit lagged. Punting was a disaster with freshman Kirk Christodoulou (112th in punt efficiency), and the return game was even more all-or-nothing than the secondary — Araujo-Lopes (gone) and Ffrench (back) combined for three return scores but each ranked outside of the top 70 in punt and kick return efficiency.

If Christodoulou improves like Kessman did as a sophomore, this unit will improve, too.

2019 outlook 2019 Schedule & Projection Factors Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability 31-Aug Virginia 41 -1.6 46% 7-Sep Ohio 82 8.2 68% 14-Sep at Penn State 14 -17.1 16% 21-Sep UCF 27 -5.4 38% 28-Sep Delaware NR 25.9 93% 5-Oct at Duke 65 -1.6 46% 18-Oct at Syracuse 56 -3.3 42% 26-Oct Miami 19 -7.6 33% 2-Nov at Georgia Tech 89 4.7 61% 14-Nov North Carolina 61 3.1 57% 23-Nov at Virginia Tech 30 -9.3 30% 30-Nov Boston College 72 5.6 63% Projected S&P+ Rk 59 Proj. Off. / Def. Rk 65 / 53 Projected wins 5.9 Five-Year S&P+ Rk 9.4 (36) 2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 51 2018 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 2 / 7.6 2018 TO Luck/Game -2.0 Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 64% (64%, 64%) 2018 Second-order wins (difference) 6.8 (0.2)

From the Whipple-led passing game, to the young running backs, to Weaver and Jones in the pass rush, to Jackson and company in the secondary, Pitt has about as much upside as it’s had under Narduzzi.

But having a high ceiling hasn’t been the issue in recent years — consistency has been. And at first glance, there’s no reason to assume that will be suddenly fixed.

Just a little bit of extra efficiency could go a long way, though. While Pitt is projected 6-6 and just 59th in S&P+, eight games are projected within a touchdown or less. That Miami, UCF, and Virginia come to Heinz Field puts those games within winning range, but games at Georgia Tech and Duke are extremely losable.

A Pitt that finds more consistency in the passing game and avoids too many front-seven injuries could make a run at eight or nine wins.

Of course, a Pitt that doesn’t could lose eight or nine.

 Team preview stats

All 2019 preview data to date.


Load more
Go to source
unread news (Demo user)
unread news (Demo user)
Bryson DeChambeau fires back at criticism of his ‘slow’ play
Bryson DeChambeau has a remedy for slow play on the PGA Tour: walk faster. DeChambeau, eighth in the official world golf rankings, has been called out by a few Tour veterans, including Brooks Koepka, for taking too long over his shots. “It’s embarrassing,” Koepka said earlier this year. While DeChambeau, 25, admits to being a...
4 m
New York Post
Fact check: The first Democratic primary debate
The 2020 Democratic presidential debates kick off in Miami over two nights -- Wednesday is the first. Here are
5 m
CBS News - Breaking News, U.S., World, Business, Entertainment & Video
Chris Mazza gets long-awaited MLB moment with Mets
PHILADELPHIA — Chris Mazza was watching the Mets game on TV in his apartment a night earlier when he got the call informing him his dream was about to be realized. And so the right-handed pitcher arrived at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday as a 29-year-old rookie ready to help out the Mets’ beleaguered bullpen....
New York Post
Michael Bloomberg is the richest person in New York
Michael Bloomberg is the richest person in New York, according to a Forbes 2019 analysis of the wealthiest residents by state. The former mayor is worth $53.8 billion, good enough to be considered the 9th richest person in the world. Bloomberg replaced Koch Industries majority owner David Koch, who in 2018 was New York’s richest...
New York Post
North Korea denies reports of behind-the-scenes talks with US
A top official at North Korea's Foreign Ministry has accused South Korean President Moon Jae-in of lying about back channel talks between Pyongyang and Washington in order to manipulate public opinion, complicating efforts by Seoul to revive nuclear negotiations between the two sides.
Politica
Google Starts Rolling Out Options to Auto-Delete Web & App, Location Histories Every Few Months
Google has begun rolling out features first announced in May that will allow users to set a time limit after which the giant will automatically delete location history rather than continue to hoard it forever, per TechCrunch. Another feature to do the same with web and app histories also appears to have launched.Read more...
Gizmodo - We come from the future.
Mom accused of killing toddler son because he was getting in way of affair
A New Jersey woman allegedly killed her toddler son because he was getting in the way of her extramarital affair, it was revealed in a detention hearing on Wednesday. Heather Reynolds, of Gloucester Township in Camden County, is charged with murder and child endangerment for the 2018 death of her 17-month-old son, Axel. She allegedly...
New York Post
Julián Castro delivers emotion and policy fire in breakout Democratic debate performance
Julián Castro walked onto the debate stage in Miami on Wednesday night as a longshot candidate with a fat resume but stubbornly low poll numbers.
Politica
California woman killed by 3 sharks while snorkeling in the Bahamas
A 21-year-old California woman was reportedly killed in an attack by three sharks while snorkeling in the Bahamas with her family, according to local reports.
Sport
Trump says India's tariff hike unacceptable, demands withdrawal
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday asked India to withdraw retaliatory tariffs that New Delhi imposed this month, calling the duties "unacceptable".
Reuters: Top News - powered by FeedBurner
Julián Castro and Beto O'Rourke spar in fight that appeared deeper than just policy
Julián Castro and Beto O'Rourke, two relatively young Democrats from Texas, have been circling each other for months as both vie to propel themselves out of the Lone Star state.
Politica
At the Democratic Debate, Elizabeth Warren’s Reformism Versus Trump’s Moral Crisis
Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes about Elizabeth Warren’s opposition to inequality and corruption, and the moral case against Donald Trump, at the Democratic Presidential debate.
The New Yorker
O'Rourke, Booker and Castro show off their Spanish in Democratic debate
Beto O’Rourke was answering a question about raising taxes on the rich when he suddenly stopped speaking English early in the first Democratic presidential debate. “Necesitamos incluir cada persona en el éxito de este economia,” he said, befuddling rivals and television viewers who don’t speak...
Sport
Facebook boss admits 'mistake' in handling of Pelosi clip
Facebook's system took too long to flag a doctored video of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, its CEO says.
BBC News - Home
Yankees homer again, beat Blue Jays on Torres' RBI in 9th
Baseball Capsules       
USATODAY - News Top Stories
Bill de Blasio Had a Surprisingly Not Bad Night
MSNBC commentators found the NYC mayor to be annoying. I did not.
Slate Articles
Faith & Freedom chairman: Trump said he'd fight for evangelicals
Ralph Reed, the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, joined "The Ingraham Angle" Wednesday where he talked about President Trump's speech before group's 2019 Road to Majority Policy Conference.
Politica
8 takeaways from the Democratic presidential debate's first night
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was the top-polling Democratic presidential candidate onstage Wednesday night, and the early moments of the party's first 2020 debate showed why.
Politica
President Trump says India's recent tariff hike unacceptable
U.S. President Donald Trump looks forward to speaking with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about a recent increase in its already high tariffs against the United States, he said on the social network Twitter on Thursday.
Reuters: Top News - powered by FeedBurner
Capri Cafaro: At first Democratic debate these 6 candidates beat Warren on authenticity, specifics and guts
Elizabeth Warren, who is ahead in the polls and gaining steam, did not steal the show in Miami Wednesday. These candidates were the real stars of the evening.
Politica
SEALs defend Navy vet Edward Gallagher, contradict claims made by snipers
The trial of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher took another surprising turn Wednesday when a fellow SEAL got on the stand and defended the decorated combat veteran, saying his alleged killing of a wounded ISIS fighter was justified and that earlier testimony from two snipers — who accused him of shooting unarmed civilians for no reason...
New York Post
‘Adios to Donald Trump.’ Democratic Candidates Address Voters in Spanish in First Debate
Some Democratic presidential candidates leaned on their Spanish language skills during the first Democratic primary debate on Wednesday. The debate, which aired on NBC and MSNBC, was also broadcast on Telemundo platforms, making it the first Spanish-language channel to host a Democratic presidential debate. About 41 million U.S. residents speak Spanish at home, according to…
TIME - powered by FeedBurner
The Debate Showed That 2020 Democrats Don’t Have a Plan to Deal with Mitch McConnell
When moderator Chuck Todd asked Elizabeth Warren if she has a plan to deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the same way that she has plans for free college and better health care, her answer was short. “I do,” she said, pausing a beat as the crowd applauded. But the stark reality is that…
TIME - powered by FeedBurner
St. Louis Blues' team puppy gets his turn with the Stanley Cup
Barclay, adopted by the St. Louis Blues to socialize him so he can become a service dog, chows down from the Stanley Cup.       
USATODAY - News Top Stories
Everything Democratic Candidates Said About Trump on the First Night of Debates
The president came up less than you might have expected.
Slate Articles
Planning a trip to Iowa this summer? Here are 101 things to do while you're there
Find Des Moines' and Iowa's best tourist attractions, fun things to do, vacation ideas, free activities and places to see around Iowa this summer.       
USATODAY - News Top Stories
New Hampshire voters impressed by Cory Booker and Julián Castro on first debate night
At a watch party in West Ossipee, New Hampshire, voters were impressed by Cory Booker and Julián Castro's performance on the first Democratic debate night. Nicole Sganga reports on the takeaways -- and how voters are reacting to the overwhelming amount of candidates.
CBS News - Breaking News, U.S., World, Business, Entertainment & Video
First Democratic debate was a good night — for Team Trump
Section 1325! Section 1325! For a few crucial minutes in the middle of the first Democratic presidential debate, Julián Castro (polling average: 0.8 percent) took over the proceedings by challenging his fellow candidates to endorse the repeal of Section 1325 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. What’s it about? Don’t ask. He yelled at Beto...
1 h
New York Post
NRA pulls the plug on NRATV live programming amid dispute with ad agency, lobbyist resignation
The NRA's live TV programming is cancelled, an executive announced Wednesday, the same day a top lobbyist resigned amid turmoil in the gun group.       
1 h
USATODAY - News Top Stories
Fresh rallies in Hong Kong as protesters defy extradition bill
Hundreds of demonstrators rallied on Thursday outside the office of Hong Kong's justice secretary after another night of protests over a suspended extradition bill that has plunged the Chinese-ruled city into political crisis.
1 h
Reuters: Top News - powered by FeedBurner
Lawyers seek access to Border Patrol facilities
One doctor said conditions "could be compared to torture"
1 h
CBS News - Breaking News, U.S., World, Business, Entertainment & Video
Report: Parents of Child YouTubers Worry Getting Pushed to YouTube Kids Will Make Them Less Money
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that YouTube was considering some drastic measures in response to growing criticism over its impact on children—which has included everything from a federal investigation into whether it illegally tracked kids to controversies over disturbing content aimed at…Read more...
1 h
Gizmodo - We come from the future.
Justin Bour's home runs power Angels' sweep of the Reds
Justin Bour hit two homers, Mike Trout scored the tiebreaking run in the eighth inning and the Los Angeles Angels got back above .500 with a 5-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night. Shohei Ohtani went 3 for 3 with a walk for the Angels (41-40), who hit the halfway point of their...
1 h
Sport
Booker says he wouldn't be vice president for a male nominee
"I will tell you this, I would not accept it if a male offered [it to] me, because we should have a female vice president," Booker said
1 h
CBS News - Breaking News, U.S., World, Business, Entertainment & Video
Jason Vargas’ rebuttal of reporter freak out is so Mets
PHILADELPHIA — This time the list of indignities for the Mets included: A major-league high 19th blown save, this time by Seth Lugo. It was the Mets’ 81st game of the year, so it doesn’t take a beautiful mind to calculate they are on pace for 38 of them. It also doesn’t take much of...
1 h
New York Post
Zillow now uses computer vision to improve property value estimates
Real estate management and listings company Zillow says that it's now using computer vision to improve the accuracy of its home valuation estimates.
1 h
VentureBeat | Tech News That Matters
Asylum Officers: Trump's 'Remain In Mexico' Policy Is Against 'Moral Fabric' Of U.S.
The labor union representing asylum officers claims the policy formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols is a "widespread violation" of international and domestic law.
1 h
News : NPR
Judge Andrew Napolitano: Trump uses unconstitutional law to micromanage health care
Trump had no constitutional authority to issue an executive order calling for upfront disclosure of health care costs.
1 h
Politica
Democrats focus on the economy, immigration during first presidential debate
MIAMI, Fla. — Ten of the 20 top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination on Wednesday staked out their positions on immigration, health care, Iran and the economy — and ripped into President Trump. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren came out swinging on the economy — which is expected to set a new record in July....
1 h
New York Post
Artist protests using fake real estate images – and dupes investors
Imaginary billboards in Berlin, advertising ‘projects’, led to serious inquiriesA Berlin-based artist who put up billboards advertising fake real estate projects in protest against runaway property development received more than 200 calls from would-be investors who didn’t get the joke.Three billboards appeared six weeks ago across Berlin advertising luxury new-build developments at in-demand locations. “Available 2021,” the billboards state. “No commission – reserve now.” They list a Berlin number to call. Continue reading...
1 h
US news | The Guardian
Why Is Everyone Drinking Celery Juice as if It Will Save Them From Dying?
Wellness gurus have extolled its benefits, but there’s no science that supports their claims.
1 h
The New York Times
Steve Scalise back on the baseball field 2 years after shooting nearly killed him
Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House, was ready to play ball for the GOP two years after a shooting at a congressional baseball practice nearly killed him.
1 h
Politica
Asylum Officers Union Says Trump Migration Policy ‘Abandons’ American Tradition
The union said that migrants could face persecution under the policy, which forces them to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases are decided.
1 h
NYT > Home Page
Report: Kevin Durant Sells Beachfront House in Malibu for $12.1M Ahead of NBA FA
Kevin Durant has sold his oceanfront Malibu home for $12.15 million, according to the Los Angeles Times ' Neal J. Leitereg . The sale coincides with Durant's recent decision to decline his $31...
1 h
bleacherreport.com
An American woman was killed in a Bahamas shark attack while snorkeling with her family
Jordan Lindsay, 21, of Torrance, California, was attacked by three sharks while snorkeling near Rose Island on Wednesday, according to the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
1 h
Sport
American woman was killed in a Bahamas shark attack while snorkeling
An American woman died after a shark attack in the Bahamas Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
1 h
CNN.com - RSS Channel
Enormous haul of cocaine seized in Philly totals nearly 20 tons
The record amount of cocaine seized by US Customs in Philadelphia last week totaled nearly 20 tons, the agency said Wednesday. The enormous haul of coke — with a street value of more than $1 billion — was seized from a large ship at the Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia on June 18, the US...
1 h
New York Post