On the Panthers: Mapping plans will be more challenging for next three games
October 11, 2016 12:00 AM
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi
Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt was named ACC specialist of the week for his performance Saturday against Georgia Tech.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Arduous as it might have been, the game-planning undertaken for Pitt’s first six contests of the 2016 season was a deep and thorough dive into the familiar.
Their first-half opponents were accompanied by coaching stability, from Villanova’s Andy Talley (32nd season) to Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy (12th) to Marshall’s Doc Holliday (seventh). Even Penn State, with a new offensive coordinator and quarterback, is in its third season under James Franklin.
What awaits Pitt in the next few weeks is an entirely different package. Each of the Panthers’ next three opponents — Virginia (Oct. 15), Virginia Tech (Oct. 27) and Miami (Nov. 5) — has a coach in his first season at the school, meaning the road game against the Cavaliers represents the beginning of a stretch that is perhaps trickier than it might have been otherwise.
“They’re a totally different offense and defense from what they were a year ago,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said of Virginia at his weekly news conference Monday. “That will be a challenge.”
In its first season under Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia is 2-3 after an underwhelming six-year run in which it went 27-46 under former coach Mike London. To properly prepare for whatever change comes with the coaching switch, Narduzzi said he and his staff watched tape this summer of Mendenhall’s teams at BYU, where he was the coach for 11 seasons, to get a sense of tendencies and overall identity.
The differences between Mendenhall’s later BYU teams and his first one at Virginia have been largely minimal.
“The basic stuff they’re doing is the same,” Narduzzi said. “It’s the same stuff.”
Defensively, Mendenhall’s teams operate in a 3-4 scheme and utilize a litany of blitzes and coverages. The more drastic changes have come offensively, where the Cavaliers have adopted a spread, no-huddle scheme that often features four wide receivers or two tailbacks on the field at once.
While five games is a small sample, Narduzzi and his staff feel prepared for what awaits them.
“We’ve got a good idea of what they did there and what they have carried over,” he said. “You know, good coaches are going to not necessarily do everything they did at BYU.”
Change possible at CB
For much of the season, Pitt’s secondary has been a glaring and unavoidable weakness. Questions about how to improve the unit have been raised for weeks and, for now, a youth movement at cornerback might be under way.
Freshmen defensive backs Damar Hamlin and Therran Coleman made their career debuts on Pitt’s depth chart Monday. Hamlin was listed third at one cornerback position, behind Avonte Maddox and Dane Jackson; Coleman was third at the opposite cornerback spot, behind Ryan Lewis and Phillipie Motley.
Both were highly rated coming out of high schools with Hamlin from Central Catholic and Coleman from Brashear. Their potential has caused some to wonder whether the plan to redshirt them will be scrapped six games into the season in order to help heal an ailing secondary.
Narduzzi said, more than anything, the move was made as a result of their impressive play of late.
“Damar and Therran, for really the past three weeks, have been battling back and forth,” he said. “We’ve traveled with both of them I think the past two or three weeks. They’re just getting closer. They’re freshmen, and we’ll see how much closer they are.”
Narduzzi denies switch
During the victory Saturday against Georgia Tech, junior running back Rachid Ibrahim warmed up with the team’s linebackers and was a part of defensive huddles on the Pitt sideline. Narduzzi, however, denied that any position switch has been made.
“He’s a tailback,” Narduzzi said.
Ibrahim, who rushed for 263 yards and averaged eight yards per carry as a sophomore in 2014, has not registered a carry this season. He missed all last season with a torn Achilles.
Two Panthers win honors
Kicker Chris Blewitt and offensive tackle Brian O’Neill were named the ACC specialist of the week and offensive linemen of the week, respectively.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
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