Penn State-Pitt week is here, and Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi took the podium Monday to talk about the Nittany Lions.
Speaking with reporters at his weekly press conference, Narduzzi addressed Pitt’s rivalry with Penn State, praised Nittany Lions running back Miles Sanders and called quarterback Trace McSorley “maybe the front-runner” for the Heisman Trophy.
Here are the highlights from Narduzzi’s presser days ahead of Penn State and Pitt’s meeting at 8 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.
Was there a point when you became the head coach a few years ago that you realized the intensity of this rivalry, and just how many people around here, and in the fan base in particular, really doesn’t like that team?
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Narduzzi: Well, you know, I knew a long time ago. I didn’t need to be a head coach to figure out what a rivalry game is. I grew up with this game back in the day. I lived in Youngstown, Ohio, and you grew up with this Pitt-Penn State rivalry game. Period. It’s why it’s been played 99 times or whatever. It’s been a rivalry for a long time. And rivalries are rivalries. Everybody’s got one. Who is it against? Maybe there are two or three of them in your season. But that’s what it is.
Along those same lines, what is the importance of this game to your program?
Narduzzi: It’s an in-state rivalry game. It’s important in the state of Pennsylvania. We say this all the time in these rivalry games, you either walk the streets or walk the alleys after the game. You’re going to sneak out Heinz Field and walk where you don’t have to see anybody, or you’re going to walk out with your chest up and chin up and walk right down the middle of everybody and say, ‘Here we are. Let’s go.’ To me, it means a lot.
All due respect to Albany, you think we might see some different things, some different people on Saturday?
Narduzzi: Penn State’s going to have a lot of new things for us, and we may have some new things for them. Who knows? But I mean, ultimately people are going to do what they do best. Personnel-wise, Trace McSorley is different than (Albany quarterback Vincent) Testaverde. You’ve got a Heisman Trophy candidate coming in, maybe the front-runner for it. He can throw it, he can run it, he can make plays. He’s an emotional leader. He’s the leader.
You’ve got a lot of weapons, whether it’s Juwan Johnson out there who looks like he’s 6-foot-9, and then KJ Hamler, who we recruited out of high school, I know how explosive that guy is out of the slot. They’ve got players everywhere. They’ve got Miles Sanders in the backfield. Shareef Miller, an explosive end, has a bunch of sacks and a bunch of TFLs and makes plays. With (Kevin) Givens, I’m sure he’ll play inside. He’s probably a little banged up coming and they said let’s save him (James Franklin announced Saturday that Givens was suspended for a violation of team rules). They’ve got explosive players really all over the field. They’re different players.
What do you think McSorley’s biggest strength is?
Narduzzi: McSorley? Oof. I mean, he’s got a bunch of them. He wouldn’t be a Heisman, I mean, he’s got a great arm, he makes good decisions, he loves to run. He’s a football player. That’s his greatest strength. He plays the game with passion. What else can you say about him? He’s got it all. He’ll play in the NFL. He’s a leader, too. I’m sure those guys are following him around campus right now. He’s got it all. Tough guy to stop.
Considering how much they relied on (Saquon) Barkley, not having him this year, is that a little different for you guys to prepare?
Narduzzi: Not really. I think it’s about the same. They’ve got different weapons. Miles Sanders, don’t sleep on that guy. That guy’s a great football player. He’s gotten bigger and stronger in the offseason. He’s catching the ball out of the backfield. Sometimes when you watch a guy for so long backing him up, you start to look like him. He showed some flashes on tape where you’re just like, oh gosh. Where is this guy going to be in another year? Is he going to be another Barkley? That’s what he looks like right now.
He’s made some major improvements since he first took a carry there two years ago. It’s just a different Miles Sanders. It’s called development. It’s what we do as coaches. He’s a good player, and they’ve got some other ones, too.