Two days after making one of the strangest play-calls of the college football season, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi told a roomful of reporters that he still harbored no regrets about attempting a field goal while trailing by a touchdown.
“I’m not a guy that’s going to put a square peg in a round hole,” Narduzzi said Monday, less than 48 hours after the 17-10 road loss to No. 13 Penn State. “But, again, the thinking and the logic is I have no regrets with the call at all. I really don’t.”
Narduzzi received universal derision for his curious play-call Saturday. With less than 5 minutes left in Saturday’s rivalry game, while facing fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Narduzzi dialed up a field-goal attempt despite trailing by a touchdown.
Pitt kicker Alex Kessman hit the left upright and missed the attempt. Pitt lost by a touchdown.
After the game, the fifth-year head coach said he played it conservative because he saw it as a two-possession game, in that Pitt would have to score twice to win. When one reporter asked him Saturday why he couldn’t just go for the two-point conversion, if that was his mind-set, Narduzzi did not respond.
Still, he used the same argument again Monday afternoon.
“We had faith in our defense,” Narduzzi said. “So when you look at what we did, we kick a field goal there — which, again, the other negative, we didn’t make a 19-yard field goal, which is a problem — but, when you look at it, we did what we wanted to do.”
One reporter spoke up Monday and laid it all out for Narduzzi. Pitt didn’t score any second-half touchdowns in Weeks 1 or 2, and it struggled late last season with second-half offense. So if you trust your defense — why not go for the TD, especially since you need a touchdown no matter what? You’re not getting closer than the 1-yard line and, even if you don’t get the touchdown, you should get the ball back at midfield.
An exasperated Narduzzi scratched his brow before answering.
“I explained why not, so I’ll explain again that’s why not,” Narduzzi said, without actually explaining. “That’s why we did what we did. And I feel good about it. Again, you can talk about what we did in Week 1 and Week 2. This is Week 3, and we were moving the football so — thanks for the question.”
The only regrets Narduzzi said he had about that memorable series Saturday were the three plays before the field-goal attempt — when Pitt still had three chances to score from 1 yard out.
The Panthers attempted two passes, where quarterback Kenny Pickett was under duress and threw incompletions, and Pickett was stopped for no gain on a run up the middle.
“My regret is that we didn’t score on one of those three plays; that’s my regret,” Narduzzi said. “And my regret is we didn’t execute them properly. And our kids know. Our coaches know.
“And we can’t have a film session here. But, in your pocket, you got a gameplan here and you got so many calls that you go, ‘It’s gonna work.’ And we had two that we really thought were gonna work. And if I dissected them with you, you’d go, ‘OK, I see what you’re talking about.’ We didn’t have at third one that we said was going to work like those other two.”
Other members of the Pittsburgh media brought up analytics and emotions, and whether those influence Narduzzi’s decisions. “The analytics are great, we listen to them, I believe them — but it depends on how you’re playing,” Narduzzi said. And he said emotions don’t factor into it at all because, if they did, he’d likely choose to go for it every fourth down.
“I’ve been known to go for it on our own 11-yard line at Virginia a year ago. Our own 11-yard line,” Narduzzi said, emphasizing Pitt went for it on fourth down on three occasions Saturday. “So we’ll go for it when it’s proper.”
Penn State and Pitt do not have a future date on the schedule, and it could be more than a decade until the in-state programs meet again. Penn State won the last three games of the four-game series, so Narduzzi’s play-call has the potential to simmer for quite some time.
Narduzzi alluded to that himself, joking that, “We can debate it for the next 10 years — and maybe we will.”
Pitt (1-2) hosts No. 15 Central Florida (3-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Penn State is on bye, before traveling to Maryland for a Friday game Sept. 27.
What Pat Narduzzi said about Penn State
(During opening statement)
“I’ll talk about the fourth-and-1 because I know it’ll probably come up. So I figured I’ll address it first. But I go back and look at it, and you can toss and turn all night. And, again, there’s no coach in the country that feels 100 percent like, ‘Man, i should’ve done this’ — because you know what? If I would’ve done the other thing and we score, I would be happy, too.
“So I’m not a guy that’s going to put a square peg in a round hole .But, again, the thinking and the logic is I have no regrets with the call at all. I really don’t. And I look back, and we had two plays in that series. And my regret is we didn’t execute them properly. And our kids know. Our coaches know. And we can’t have a film session here. But, in your pocket, you got a gameplan here and you got so many calls that you go, ‘It’s gonna work.’ And we had two that we really thought were gonna work. And if I dissected them with you, you’d go, ‘OK, I see what you’re talking about.’ We didn’t have at third one that we said was going to work like those other two. And if you didn’t execute those properly, which it came down to execution ... I thought we had the plays, and we just didn’t do it right. And it comes down to that.
“And we had faith in our defense. So when you look at what we did, we kick a field goal there — which, again, the other negative, we didn’t make a 19-yard field goal, which is a problem — but, when you look at it, we did what we wanted to do. We wanted to get three (points) there, we wanted to go out and play defense again. Our defense had been playing good all day long except giving up a couple explosives — which three in this game of football today is probably on the low end of Saturday afternoon across college football, from the East to the West. But our defense was playing good, and our deal is — we work it all the time — there’s four-minute defense, four-minute offense, whatever it may be, and ... we trusted our defense would get a stop. OK?
“And I was hoping we’d get a turnover, stop, whatever it may be. And we got the ball back with a 1:50-whatever left and we expected our offense to do their two-minute and go down the field and score. So, enough of that. It’s what it is. And we can debate it for the next 10 years — and maybe we will. Because we probably won’t play them in the next 10 years. So I apologize for Panther Nation because we all want to win that game, and there’s nobody that feels worse about that than the guys in this room.”
(On why, if he trusted the defense, he wouldn’t just go for the TD — knowing the defense could stop PSU and give Pitt the ball around midfield)
“I explained why not, so I’ll explain again that’s why not. That’s why we did what we did. And I feel good about it. Again, you can talk about what we did in Week 1 and Week 2. This is Week 3, and we were moving the football so — thanks for the question.
(On how analytics inform his decisions)
“The analytics are great, we listen to them, I believe them — but it depends on how you’re playing. I mean, there are some analytics that said on the fourth-and-1 that we went for it, it said we should’ve gone for it on fourth-and-8. That’s crazy. It says go for it on fourth-and-8. You’d look at me like — so you look at those things and there are things you’re going to do and things you’re not going to do.”
(On what role emotions play into play-calls)
“Emotions don’t play into it at all. Better not. If the emotion played into it, you’d go all the time. Again, we went three times, guys. I’ve been known to go for it on our own 11-yard line at Virginia a year ago. On our own 11-yard line. So we’ll go for it when it’s proper.”
(Other part of opening statement)
Well, obviously, tough weekend. Which, that’s the game of football. Sometimes you win them, and sometimes you lose them. And, sometimes, if you just look at the wins or losses and you look at nothing else, you kind of lose track of really where you are and what you’ve done. But I think I did — or, at least, I told our kids — I really think we made improvements from Week 2 to Week 3. And, for as young as we are, that’s really what we’re looking for.
“I think we played a good football team. Some of the positives that I take away from it: No. 1, I thought Kenny (Pickett) stood in that pocket strong, stepped up when he needed to, fired the ball. Again, we took what they gave us. They’re pretty sturdy vs. our run. They wanted to take our run away, so we took what they gave us. And I think we attacked their weakness, which was their secondary. But I thought Kenny played really well at times. I thought just his eyes down the field, when you can compare that to Week 1 against Virginia, when you saw those scrambles. What’s that tell you?
“OK, he’s a great scrambler. But it tells you he’s looking at the rush and getting out of there. He didn’t trust his protection. And when you look at where he was in Week 1 to Week 3, it’s totally different. Because Shaka Toney is coming off the edge still, OK? But his eyes didn’t leave, and he’s taking shots, and you look at our receivers making plays. I think we had four drops and, if they didn’t drop those four balls, I believe we win the game. Period. It just keeps drives going. I mean, Taysir Mack — on another positive note — has 12 catches. Playing outstanding; had two key flat plays where he just goes and gets the ball, and he did a great job.
“But, you look at the explosives in the game. And we chart explosives and we got some stats where we say, ‘Hey, if you got so many explosives, you win the game. ‘ This whole thing messed all our stats up as far as what’s going on. But we had 11 explosive gains; they had three. You can look at the (85-yard) run and the one quick out they ran we don’t tackle very well. We take poor angles. But they had three; we had 11. You don’t lose many games when you do that. And you look at those; another positive for at least our offense is we don’t have turnovers — [knocks on wood] — two weeks in a row. You look at those things, you can win a lot of football games. Unfortunately, we’re not getting them at the other end. You know, Paris (Ford) has a great one we take back 50 yards, and probably a good call. And at least I’d say they were consistent because they got one on Ffrenchie (Maurice Ffrench), where it was about the same thing.
“And, again, you look defensively. Have a lot of faith in our defense. When you just look overall — when you hold an explosive offense, which they’ve shown to be. OK? We’ll see how that continues to go throughout the season. You hold an explosive offense to 17 points, there’s some good things there. On the negative side ... the rushing game wasn’t as good as we needed it to be. And I don’t care what they’re doing to the boxes. I told the offense, I don’t care what they’re doing to it. We saw that last year and, again, we got to be who we are and what we are.
“But we’d like to run the ball better. We’d like to stop the run better. So I’m still not happy with some of the things, and I guess when you look at it overall on defense if you take that 80-yarder out of there, you’re holding them to under 100 (rushing) yards. And you’re feeling pretty good about that.”