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Fewer mistakes new mantra for Pitt football | TribLIVE.com
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Fewer mistakes new mantra for Pitt football

Tribune-Review
| Monday, September 24, 2018 7:48 p.m
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Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett tries to break away from North Carolina defenders (from left) Tomon Fox, Cole Holcomb and Jalen Dalton on Saturday at Kenan Stadium on September 22, 2018 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Midway through his weekly news conference Monday, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi raised his index finger and held it out in front of him.

Not to reprimand, but to make a point about Pitt’s 38-35 loss to North Carolina.

The magic number is one.

“You’re going to have mistakes,” he said, “but one less mistake and you win the football game. That’s all it takes is one. Make one more (play) than you did.”

It makes a nice speech to his players, who probably heard the same thing Sunday before, during and after video review. Really, Narduzzi is right.

Change the result of one bad play, and a three-point defeat could be reversed. The problem Saturday was there was more than one bad play, and if you stack them up, they add up to an 1-1 start in the ACC.

“There are just little things, each play,” Narduzzi said.

Little things that turn into big things.

Here’s a sampling:

• Junior safety Jazzee Stocker made a nice break on a pass late in the first half but dropped the ball. Narduzzi said it would have been touchdown. “And he’s got good hands, too,” he said.

• Junior wide receiver Tre Tipton tried to pick up kick returner Maurice Ffrench’s fumble but muffed it. Asked how far Tipton would have run if he fielded the ball cleanly, Narduzzi said, “He might have taken it to the house.” In real life, North Carolina recovered to set up a field goal that provided its margin of victory.

That’s 14 points for Pitt and three fewer for North Carolina in a span of two plays that took only a few seconds each.

• A holding penalty on Rashad Weaver during a punt return pushed Pitt back to its 8 in the third quarter, contributing to its poor field position after halftime. Pitt never started a drive past its own 28 in the second half, probably the main reason it scored only one touchdown in that time. (The other reason was allowing 23 North Carolina first downs.)

• A personal foul against defensive tackle Amir Watts cost Pitt 15 yards and gave North Carolina the ball on Pitt’s 31, instead of the 46. The Tar Heels scored in the next play. “We throw somebody down, which is uncharacteristic,” Narduzzi said. “It’s just like, boom, stab ourselves in the heart. Until you fix that, you’re going to have the same problem.”

• An illegal shift penalty wiped out a 23-yard run by Ffrench.

“Who knows what that turns into (without the penalty)?” Narduzzi said.

• North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott threw two touchdown passes. Both plays were helped by mistakes in the Pitt secondary — one mental, one physical. The first was a bad read that led to a 19-yard touchdown pass to Michael Carter. The Raycom Network announcer remarked, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Tar Heel that open.”

The second was North Carolina freshman wide receiver Dyami Brown running past Pitt redshirt cornerback Paris Ford. The play broke a 28-28 tie in the third quarter. “We’ve got to press it up, and we’ve got to get on the guy,” Narduzzi said, without calling out Ford by name.

• That score was set up when Pitt cornerback Damarri Mathis was in the wrong coverage on a 19-yard catch by Anthony Ratliff-Wiliams on third-and-17.

“There’s just little things, each play — you guys can put the tape on and point it out,” Narduzzi said. “We call cover two, man underneath, and my man (safety) Therran Coleman is in perfect coverage, (cornerback) Dane Jackson is in perfect coverage and the other corner just plays it different than the other two guys. But he didn’t do that in practice.”

Narduzzi didn’t mention Mathis by name, either, but he threw collective blame on everyone, including himself, his coaches and players.

“We don’t do everything perfect as coaches or players. We all make mistakes at times,” he said. “Everybody has got a piece of it.”

NOTES: Pitt’s secondary expects to get a boost Saturday against No. 13 Central Florida with the return of safety Phil Campbell, who was ill and didn’t make the trip to North Carolina. … Narduzzi called Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton a “Heisman Trophy candidate, for real. That will be the second one we played this season (Penn State’s Trace McSorley).” … Pitt’s game against Syracuse on Oct. 6 at Heinz Field will start at 12:20 p.m. and be televised by WTAE-TV.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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