PITTSBURGH — Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi watched his team let Navy’s meticulously executed option offense have its way in a lopsided loss in the Military Bowl last December and knew something needed to be done.
So the coach who stresses taking it one week at a time did something a little different during fall camp. He looked ahead. To be more specific, he looked ahead to Georgia Tech, who will bring a scheme the Midshipmen used to roll up 417 yards rushing to Heinz Field on Saturday.
Narduzzi called the cram sessions “Panther Periods.”
“We need to stop the run,” Narduzzi said. “Whether it’s a spread offense or a triple offense, we need to make the plays necessary to stop them. We looked at it during the summer just so we could get our kids further along.”
Pitt (3-2, 0-1 ACC) will get a chance to see if the extra studying pays off on Saturday when the Yellow Jackets (3-2, 1-2) visit Heinz Field.
“They a have lot of magic done behind the line, a lot of stuff you’ve got to look at,” Pitt linebacker Oluwaseun Idowu said.
“You need to have honest eyes.
The Panthers edge Georgia Tech on a late field goal last season and figures to be in another tight one this time around. Each of Pitt’s past four games have been decided in the last 2 minutes, including a late 13-point outburst in the final 1:04 to put away Marshall last Saturday.
That hasn’t been the case for the Yellow Jackets, who are coming off consecutive home losses to No. 2 Clemson and No. 10 Miami, games in which they never led. Any chance of upsetting the Hurricanes evaporated when Miami returned a pair of second-quarter fumbles by Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas for touchdowns in the second quarter. Thomas knows those miscues need to stop immediately.
“We’ve just got to stay consistent,” quarterback Justin Thomas said. “It will come but right now it’s just in spurts. We do something good a few drives and come back and we start going backward.”
TOUGH GRIND FOR YELLOW JACKETS OFFENSE: Each of Georgia Tech’s first three ACC opponents — Boston College (1), Clemson (12) and Miami (7) — rank among the top 12 nationally in total defense. That’s not the case with Pitt which is No. 72, allowing 406.6 yards per game. Those numbers are a bit skewed, however, and not necessarily in Georgia Tech’s favor. The Panthers have struggled against the pass but are fourth in the country against the run, allowing 69.8 yards per game.
The Yellow Jackets struggled to a 17-14 win over Boston College in Dublin and were shut down in a 26-7 loss to Clemson. Their 124 total yards against Clemson were a low mark for the spread-option offense in nine years under Johnson.
Johnson took a more hands-on approach in practice last week and Georgia Tech rebounded with 361 yards, including 267 yards rushing, in last week’s 35-21 loss to Miami.
WHITHER WHITHEAD?: Pitt sophomore safety Jordan Whitehead dressed but did not play against Marshall, the 2015 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year watching from the sideline as the Panthers pulled away late to seal the victory. Narduzzi initially declined to get into Whitehead’s status but earlier this week described Whitehead’s absence on the field due to reasons “personal in nature.” Whitehead is second on the team in tackles and has rushed for 63 yards while moonlighting occasionally on offense. Narduzzi anticipates Whitehead returning to the lineup Saturday.
BEEN HERE, DONE THAT: Georgia Tech also was coming off two straight losses to Duke and North Carolina in 2014 when it turned its season around with a 56-28 win at Pitt. That team finished 11-3, played in the ACC championship game and won the Orange Bowl.
“A lot of people were about to give up the ship and jump off and we ended up winning 11 games and the Orange Bowl,” Johnson said. “There’s still a lot of football to be played. You’ve just got to take it one game at a time and play. I’d like for us to be playing better than we are playing but who knows? Maybe this is the week.”
PASS HAPPY? Against Marshall the Panthers threw for more yards than they ran for, the first time that’s happened this season. It was a welcome jolt for quarterback Nate Peterman and wide receiver Jester Weah, who connected on the game-sealing 54-yard touchdown with 64 seconds left.
“I feel my confidence is right up through the roof,” Weah said. “I feel like when I’m on the field I can do whatever I want.”