November 13, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola
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Coach Pat Narduzzi touched on several topics Thursday in his final press briefing before the Duke game.
The most interesting? I guess it’s the decision to tone down the fourth quarter party.
It started after the opener when Narduzzi didn’t like his team’s passivity entering the fourth quarter of the Youngstown State game. Pitt won, but YSU scored two touchdowns in the final quarter.
So, players decided to fire themselves up at the end of the third quarter by jumping up and down like mad men, squirting water bottles at each other and encircling one or two guys doing rapid-fire pushups. All of this was happening while coaches waited to discuss fourth-quarter strategy.
It worked for a while, but Iowa, Virginia and Georgia Tech scored one touchdown each in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame hit the Panthers with two.
Narduzzi said it’s time to cool it.
“I was shaking my head last week,” he said. “It’s good they are enthusiastic. If you ask them to do something, they will do it.
“But you can’t have a frat party. Maybe a dinner party. We are going to change it up a little bit.”
To that, I say: “Good call, coach.”
Narduzzi scoffed at the Duke injury report that lists quarterback Thomas Sirk as questionable with an upper body injury.
“They say he’s questionable,” Narduzzi said. “He’s a tough kid. He runs like Larry Csonka. The guy’s a beast. We expect him to play.”
Sirk, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, is Duke’s leading rusher with 555 yards and five touchdowns. He’s hard to bring down; opponents have only six sacks in nine games.
Consider Sirk’s passing yardage (1,979), and Duke would be in trouble without him.
Pitt’s running game could use a boost after Qadree Ollison has totaled only 86 yards in the past two games after going back-to-back with 83 and 98 yards against Georgia Tech and Syracuse.
Narduzzi said “don’t count out” Darrin Hall, who might have hit the freshman wall earlier this season. Hall had games of 52, 38 and 38 yards by midseason, but he has had only three carries in the past three games.
“He’s been better this week (in practice),” Narduzzi said. “You never know. Maybe he’s got a new girlfriend.”
Narduzzi has argued with officials on several occasions this season, but in the solitude of a conference room (between games, with reporters around him), he was of no mind to criticize them.
“There is no bigger problem in the ACC than there is the Big Ten, Big 12 or SEC. It’s all the same,” he said. “It’s not an easy job. They work their tails off to get it done.
“They’ll get some things wrong. They’ll get some things right. It’s part of the game. It’s human error and it’s going to happen.”
I’ll have more on Narduzzi and the officials in Saturday’s game-day package in the Trib and on Triblive.com.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe seemed enthused Wednesday when he was asked about running back Jela Duncan, who has played in only six games, but is averaging 7.4 yards per carry.
Duncan, 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, was Duke’s leading rusher in 2012 and 2013 before he was suspended for the ’13 bowl game and the ’14 season due to an academic issue. He had surgery on both shoulders last year, and a pectoral injury kept him out of the first three games this year.
“He’s just now getting into football condition and shape,” Cutcliffe said. “I was very proud of him and his effort and intensity. He will have an impact for us down the stretch, no question.”
Not a lot of good came out of Duke’s 66-31 loss to North Carolina last week, but Duncan ran for 115 yards and Shaqiulle Powell added 98 – both on just 13 carries each.
Pitt fans should be concerned that defensive tackles Tyrique Jarrett and Mark Scarpinato are listed as doubtful with lower and upper body injuries, respectively. That hurts the starting lineup and the depth at the position.
Still, I get the feeling Pitt’s defense will recover against Duke. The teams have each scored a total of 106 points against each other in the past two games, but I think Narduzzi will tackle someone himself if Duke gets close to 50 points this time. Plus, Sirk’s injury — even if he plays — can’t be good for the Blue Devils’ chances.
I also look for a big game from Nathan Peterman and Tyler Boyd after the Irish shut down the Pitt passing game for the most part last week.
Watch, but don’t bet: Pitt 31, Duke 28.
Boyd, by the way, got his per-catch average up to 10.0 with his 51-yard touchdown reception late in the Notre Dame game. It also gave him Pitt’s all-time record in receiving yards (3,097) as he passed Antonio Bryant. He had previously set the reception record. He now has 229 catches in less than three seasons, 27 more than Devin Street had in four years.