Pitt notebook: Speed, speed speed in preparation for Central Florida
There’s a serious challenge involved whether you’re preparing for Central Florida, playing Central Florida or just sitting at home watching Central Florida.
“If you’re not paying attention to the TV screen,” Pitt linebacker Elijah Zeise said, “three plays have gone by.”
So Pitt dramatically altered its practice routine this week to get ready for Saturday’s game and the up-tempo offense of the 13th-ranked and undefeated Knights of Central Florida.
Pitt set up two huddles with scout team players, one immediately lining up after the first group ran a play.
“We were snapping between 8 and 15 seconds most of the time this week,” coach Pat Narduzzi said.
That’s a necessary step in terms of preparation, but Narduzzi said it can leave some unfinished business on the practice field.
“At times, our coaches were more focused on coaching the scout teams, unfortunately,” he said. “Because you’re trying to get the look for your (defense). That’s the only part I didn’t really like. Our full-time coaches were coaching (Central Florida’s) offense. It really takes you out of what you want to do.”
Narduzzi said practice returned to normal Thursday.
“We slowed the tempo down and just coached football like we’d like to,” he said.
Because there’s little time to send in fresh players or change the defense, Pitt may have to stay in its base defense for more snaps than usual.
“It’s hard to get personnel on the field because of the speed of the game,” he said. “We just hope they get the call.
“The advantage of their offense is they’re going to try to keep (defenses) vanilla, so they know where you are and they’re blocking statutes. You can’t get too fancy.
“When they sub, we have to take our opportunity to sub. They have to get tired, too.”
‘Paid to run’
Pitt safety coach Cory Sanders said the speed of the opponent shouldn’t be an issue for his group.
“To me, as a defensive back, this is what you want,” he said. “I always tell these guys you get paid to run. That’s what we do. We run around, and we cover.”
It also will test a player’s mental toughness.
“On film, you see guys are going back (to line up) and they shut down for a play, and you see a big play hit. We have to make sure we’re sharp up top mentally,” Sanders said.
He can run and throw
The troubling aspect of defending against Central Florida is that its offense is equally effective running and passing.
Junior quarterback McKenzie Milton set several school records as a sophomore last year, including passing yards (4,037) and touchdown passes (37) while tying the mark of seven 300-yard games set by Daunte Culpepper and Ryan Schneider.
This season, Central Florida (3-0) is 21st in the nation in passing yards per game (304) and seventh in rushing (283.6). Five Knights have rushed for at least 102 yards, including Milton, who is second at 147.
Narduzzi said he will try to make the Knights one-dimensional, which is no secret. That’s always been his emphasis, but this season Pitt’s run defense is 100th in the nation (12th among ACC teams), giving up an average of 191 yards.
”When you don’t just dominate the run game defensively, it opens it up so they can do anything they want to,” he said. “You have to be good at something. Through the years, it’s been stopping the run and we have to do a better job of stopping it. They have enough speed on the field that you have to do it in the right way, so we have to find the right way to do it.”
This will be the fifth game of the season, which means freshman wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis, who has played in the first four, officially will burn his redshirt season when he gets in the game. But that’s been the plan for him almost from the day he arrived on campus in January.
Meanwhile, freshman running back Mychale Salahuddin has played in one game, so there’s a chance he could save his redshirt by only participating in three of the next eight.
“I told him, after four games, you’re going to have to make us play you,” Narduzzi said. “We lose two tailbacks (after) this year. We’re preparing for the future.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.