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Pitt notebook: Narduzzi says coaches did ‘great job,’ pass ‘D’ must make plays

Jerry DiPaola
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Pitt's Ryan Lewis (38) and Dennis Briggs try to stop North Carolina's Bug Howard on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Chapel Hill, N.C.
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North Carolina's Mack Hollins catches a pass as Pitt's Ryan Lewis defends during the first half Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Chapel Hill, N.C.

When Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi was asked about fixes to his pass defense, his answer — on the surface — might be surprising.

“You can’t do anything about it,” he said.

Fans should not panic. Narduzzi hasn’t surrendered.

Translation: Pitt has its best personnel on the field, coaches have designed what they believe are the appropriate alignments and players need to execute.

“Could we make a play? Yeah,” he said Saturday after Pitt lost 37-36 to North Carolina on another late-game pass. “Players make plays. Coaches coach, and we try to put them in position.

“I thought our coaches did a great job of putting them in position to make plays.”

North Carolina (3-1, 1-0) is one of the best teams on Pitt’s schedule, and the Tar Heels have several productive players on offense.

“You can’t cover them all,” Narduzzi said. “They’re going to spread you out.

“(Ryan) Switzer’s a good player,” he said of the UNC wide receiver. “Mitch (Trubisky, the UNC quarterback) is a good player. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Goal remains the same

The loss to North Carolina was only the first in the ACC, but Pitt (2-2, 0-1) still has ranked teams — No. 5 Clemson and No. 14 Miami — to play on the road in November. Its margin for error has been squeezed.

“It’s a very tough loss when you put so much into the game that we do,” quarterback Nathan Peterman said.

Peterman said the team’s goal to win the ACC championship remains alive.

“We don’t believe those goals are over at all,” he said. “We’ll definitely feel this loss, but we’ll bounce back. We’ll keep our heads up, and we’ll be all right.”

One bright spot

Safety Jordan Whitehead said the communication problems that plagued the secondary at Oklahoma State were eliminated Saturday.

“We were communicating better,” he said. “That was an emphasis all week in practice, making sure everybody got their assignment.”

Near the bottom

Pitt is next-to-last (127th) in the nation in pass defense, allowing an average of 361 yards. Only Arizona State (404) is worse.

Marshall, a Conference USA team that visits Heinz Field on Saturday, is 121st (323.7).

Run, run, run

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada continues to lean heavily on his running game, calling plays Saturday that allowed 10 players to carry the football.

Wide receiver Quadree Henderson said North Carolina caught on to his jet sweeps later in the game, crashing cornerback Des Lawrence into the box to help with run defense.

But if Lawrence was neglecting the pass, Pitt didn’t take advantage of it. Peterman threw for only 24 yards after halftime.

North Carolina’s adjustment to Pitt’s running game actually didn’t help. Henderson carried four times for 35 yards in the first half, five for 72 in the second.

Henderson has more carries and rushing yards (20-260) than receptions and receiving yards (12-126) this season.

Notable

James Conner has scored one rushing touchdown in all four games, but he carried only 16 times, a season low, against North Carolina. … Peterman completed 75.7 percent of his passes in the Penn State and North Carolina games, 54 percent against Villanova and Oklahoma State. … Tight end Scott Orndoff caught nine passes in the first two games, one in the past two. … Peterman has been sacked only three times in four games (none against Penn State and North Carolina). … Pitt opponents have converted 5 of 7 fourth downs, a 71.4 percent rate that is 12th in the ACC. But Pitt is 25th in the nation (sixth in the conference) in third-down conversion defense, allowing only 30.2 percent (16 of 53).

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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