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Could a few shoves among Pitt teammates reduce the number of penalty flags?

October 6, 2018

Pitt defensive line coach Charlie Partridge during practice Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Nothing personal, but during practice this week, Pitt’s scout team players gave the regulars a little shove at the end of the play to test their discipline.

Retaliation is the surest way to draw a flag, so why not teach guys how to ignore the other team’s transgressions? With 40 penalties, Pitt (2-3) can match last year’s 12-game total by committing six more Saturday against Syracuse.

It’s an exercise Pitt uses regularly, but defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said, “we tried to amp it up” this week.

“We are a disciplined group,” he said. “These guys take care of their business, and we want to show America that on Saturday. We’re trying to do everything we can to eliminate our penalties.

“Right now, we have more than is our standard. We want to get our standard back.”

Pitt lost an interception against Central Florida when linebacker Quintin Wirginis was called for roughing the passer. “Give him credit,” Partridge said of quarterback McKenzie Milton. “He did a nice job of making it look good.”

But Partridge doesn’t blame Milton.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t need to put our hands on that quarterback,” he said. “Those type of things we have to continue to fight to clean up.”

Singular focus

While quarterback Kenny Pickett hunkers down in the video room trying to find what’s wrong with Pitt’s offense, he ignores things that don’t matter, especially social media.

“You get notifications (on the phone), you look at it and put it right back in your pocket and go do homework or watch film,” he said. “You kind of smile at it, go to work, wake up the next day, have fun playing the game you love. I don’t let it mess with me.”

That’s Pickett’s way of avoiding stress, but he said he doesn’t mind shouldering some of the pressure himself so his teammates can relax.

“That’s the player I am,” he said. “I feel I can handle whatever pressure that anyone wants to put on the team. I don’t feel any pressure from (reporters). I could care less what anybody says. I worry about the guys in here.”

A burnt shirt

Pickett’s first action as a freshman came in the Syracuse game last year, but he’ll get more of an opportunitiy this time.

He played only one snap last year after Max Browne was injured and Ben DiNucci had helmet problems. He completed a pass for 13 yards on the last play of Pitt’s 27-24 loss in the Carrier Dome.

That was enough to burn his redshirt, a year before the NCAA changed the rule to allow players to participate in up to four games and retain four years of eligibility.

Pickett is hoping to get back that year, he said.

“Hopefully, they do something where maybe I can get it back. Who knows?” he said. “I’m not really focused on that right now.”

He said he likes the new rule because it “gets some freshmen out there to get some experience” without worrying about losing a year.

Two mentors

Maurice Ffrench has become one of the top three wide receivers on the team, with Taysir Mack and Rafael Araujo-Lopes, and he credits assistant coach Kevin Sherman for guiding him into the starting lineup.

“In high school, you’re just better than everybody,” Ffrench said. “You can do whatever you want. In college football, you really have to work and know what you’re doing out there and coach Sherman has been that dude for me, helping me through those times, watching film with me late days, helping me grow as a player.”

His other mentor has been freshman wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis, who has one of the most outgoing personalities on the team.

“He’s a real person,” he said. “I love when people tell you things straight up, don’t beat around the bush.

“Say I run a bad route, he says, `C’mon, Maurice, what are you doing?′ Shocky will tell you the truth.

“Shocky, that’s my boy. He’s grown on me.”

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