Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi apparently had a few things to get off his chest this week.
On a podcast hosted by a Pittsburgh-area car dealership owner (yes, for real), Narduzzi took shots at the Big Ten, Michigan State and Mark Whipple, among others.
It all started when Narduzzi was asked about Kenny Pickett not playing in the Peach Bowl vs. Michigan State. Pickett, Pitt’s Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback who went on to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft, opted not to play to get healthy for the pre-draft process.
With Pickett out, backup Nick Patti got the start. But after Patti broke his collarbone in the first quarter, Pitt was forced to play third-stringer Davis Beville for the majority of the game — a game Michigan State won 31-21 despite All-American running back Kenneth Walker III also sitting out.
Narduzzi said Pickett would have made a “21-point difference” had he played in the game. And if Patti was able to play more than two series, Narduzzi claimed that he would have made a “at least a 14-point difference” in the game.
“Michigan State gets their butt kicked in,” Narduzzi said Wednesday.
Narduzzi, who spent eight seasons as MSU’s defensive coordinator before taking the Pitt job, then took a shot at the quality of the Big Ten as a whole.
“It’s at least a 14-point difference if Nick Patti plays the whole game. That’s how I feel,” Narduzzi said. “We talk about Big Ten and SEC and ACC … If that was one of the best Big Ten teams last year, then let’s go to the Big Ten and win it every year. I don’t want to hear about this Big Ten dominance and SEC dominance.”
During ACC Media Days on Thursday, Narduzzi said he “meant no disrespect to the Big Ten or Michigan State” with those comments.
“You hear all these things during the summer about the Power 2 and all this stuff. You know, we play some darn good football in the ACC, and I think people forget about it,” Narduzzi said. “I’ve coached in the Big Ten for eight years, so I know it. I don’t know the SEC. I’ve never coached in the SEC, but I do know the Big Ten. I feel very confident. It’s not being arrogant. It’s just kind of knowing the landscape and knowing what we played against in the Peach Bowl.
“I just would have liked to have our backup quarterback play the whole game. That’s just confidence. That’s no disrespect to the Big Ten or Michigan State. It’s just about Pitt and about the ACC. That’s all I can tell you. I think ACC football is really, really good, and that’s really the comment there that I was trying to get across.”
Pat Narduzzi calls out Mark Whipple, his former OC
During the podcast appearance, while still responding to a question about Pickett’s decision not to play in the bowl game, Narduzzi made it clear how he feels about Whipple, who served as Pitt’s offensive coordinator from 2019-2021. After last season, he left Pitt for Nebraska.
Narduzzi was critical of Whipple’s tendency to call pass plays and said that Pickett was “banged up” because of the offense’s predictability.
“I think when you throw the ball 85% of the time and you’ve got people just teeing off on you in the pass rush, we didn’t make it easy on Kenny. Everybody knew we were going to throw the ball and we threw the ball,” Narduzzi said. “As a defensive coordinator, if I know you’re going to throw the ball, I’m going to get you. I’m going to make you pay. There’s some things we could do to really stop you if we know you have no desire to run the ball.
“Our old offensive coordinator had no desire to run the ball. Everybody knew. He was stubborn. I mean Wake Forest was 118th in run defense and we threw the ball every down. When we ran it, we ran for 10 yards but that wasn’t ‘t good enough. [Pickett] was banged up, so maybe if he didn’t bang him up all season, maybe he would’ve played [in the bowl game].”
Pitt won the ACC title in 2021 in large part due to a high-powered offense called by Whipple. Pickett put up huge numbers, consistently linking up with wide receiver Jordan Addison, who won the Biletnikoff Award.
In the Wake Forest game Narduzzi referenced, Pickett threw for 253 yards (well below his season average of 332.2 ypg) and two touchdowns. Collectively, the Panthers rushed for 112 yards on 38 attempts in that game. And 58 of those yards came on a Pickett touchdown scramble (the infamous one with the fake slide). In the win, Pitt’s running backs compiled 116 yards on 26 carries — a 4.4-yard average. For the season, Pitt ranked No. 84 nationally in rushing yards per attempt (3.98).
Based on the comments Narduzzi has made throughout the offseason, it sounds like Pitt is going to lean more heavily on the running game in 2022. Frank Cignetti Jr., who Narduzzi hired to replace Whipple, has a track record of utilizing a ground attack — for better or for worse.
Narduzzi feels like his program is better off with Cignetti and Tiquan Underwood, who replaced receivers coach Brennan Marion after he departed for Texas.
“I feel even better about our staff now than I did a year ago. That’s a fact,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t care if we win one football game. We’ve got better people coaching in those positions on offense. I can guarantee you that, okay? I’m just giving you facts. Coach Cignetti. Coach Underwood. Couldn’t be any better.”
Narduzzi: Jordan Addison leaving was about NIL
Pickett won’t be the only star player out of the picture for the Pitt offense in 2022. Addison decided to transfer to USC. He said he began to mull a transfer when Whipple and Marion left Pittsburgh, but Narduzzi believes the move to USC was more based on NIL opportunities.
“I think [NIL] did have something to do with it. If it had anything to do with coaching, we’re fooling ourselves if we want to believe that. We’ve got the greatest staff in the country,” Narduzzi said. “I think it all had to do with that. There was nothing else. Everybody can make excuses, but there’s no excuses.”
Pitt is set to open his season up at home against West Virginia on Sept. 1.