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Pitt notebook: Narduzzi not entirely happy with defensive effort

September 30, 2018

Pitt's Patrick Jones II looks to drop Albany's Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks in the second half Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018 at Heinz Field.

Pitt’s defense started the season by intercepting two passes, recording five sacks and holding Albany’s ground game to 2.1 yards per rush.

But was coach Pat Narduzzi happy? Not especially.

“We stopped the run,” he said. “We could have maybe destroyed the run if we had tackled a little bit better.

“Our fits (players being where they’re supposed to be) were darn good, but we have to clean up the tackling. Sometimes, I think guys got their eyes closed.”

Tackling problems early in the season might be explained by the lack of hitting in practice, he said.

“We live tackled maybe six times out of 24 opportunities,” Narduzzi said. “That’s your first live chance and the first time since the Miami game (Nov. 24, 2017) since we tackled at Heinz Field. I think that’s a different deal, too.

“So, at least we got one practice under our belts, if you want to call it that.”

Too many yards in the air

The pass defense allowed completions of 40, 37 and 28 yards and an average of 14.6 to Albany quarterback Vincent Testaverde, who hadn’t played since 2014.

Narduzzi pointed out, without explanation, that three members of the secondary -- cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Jason Pinnock and safety Phil Campbell III -- did not play against Albany. Jackson and Campbell III were starters in the final game of last season.

He didn’t say if they will be play Saturday night against Penn State, but all three probably are nursing injuries with an unspecified degree of severity.

He might need them. Narduzzi called Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley a Heisman Trophy candidate, “maybe the front-runner for it, because he can throw it, he can run it and he’s an emotional leader.”

McSorley completed 21 of 36 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in Penn State’s victory against Appalachian State.

What about Bookser?

Also on the injury front, Narduzzi didn’t say if senior offensive tackle Alex Bookser, who was kept out of the Albany game, would be ready to go Saturday.

“It will come down to how he feels and how the trainers feel,” he said.

Redshirt freshman Gabe Houy played for Bookser.

“He made some mistakes, but he got those out of the way and he’s going to be a better football player for it,” he said. “We had faith he could do it and he did it.”

Backups play, too

Narduzzi was pleased he was able to use 55 players against Albany, including backup quarterback Ricky Town.

“In three seasons, we have not been able to get our backups in the game,” he said. “We had 55 players on the offense and defense get involved in that game (not counting special teams).

“Anytime you get your backup quarterback in the game (is good). Get him a throw. Get him a handoff. Get him to check some things, just to find out where he is so he’s not getting in some other time where it’s a little bit more risky.”

Ford’s future

Redshirt freshman Paris Ford entered the game as a reserve cornerback and recorded two tackles, but Narduzzi sees Ford eventually moving to safety.

“I think Paris is going to be a great player,” he said. “He did some really good things. Now we’re not afraid to put him out there because we know what we got. He’s still got to clean up technique just like the other guys.

“He might fit better as a safety, but, mentally, it’s just a little bit less for him to get him out on the field (at cornerback). There’s a lot of stuff that goes on back there (at safety).

“Eventually that guy is going to be a heckuva safety for us.”

Blocking broke down

Narduzzi gave Maurice Ffrench almost all the credit for his 91-yard kickoff return that gave Pitt a 7-0 lead on the first play of the game.

“I can’t tell you the blocking and the setup were exactly the way we want it to be,” he said. “I give Maurice a lot of credit for what he did on that play.”

He said former walk-on Kellen McAlone missed his first block on the play but recovered nicely.

“He was well-coached, turned around and earned his scholarship by running up there and blocking the kicker,” the coach said. “Maybe he messed up the first part but finished it off and popped it open.”

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