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Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi explains issues on defense while trying to deal with loss of two starters

November 20, 2018

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi spoke in detail Monday while citing examples of what went wrong on defense in the 54-45 victory against Duke.

“There were a lot of great things to take from it,” Narduzzi said, “and a lot of things we need to get a lot better if we expect to continue to move on and win games in this league.”

The loss of two defensive starters is a big factor. Narduzzi revealed sophomore tackle Keyshon Camp will miss the rest of the season with an upper-body injury, joining senior middle linebacker Quintin Wirginis, who suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago.

But it goes deeper than personnel matters.

The crux of the problem has not changed over the course of this and other seasons. Players are just trying to do too much.

“It’s guys wanting to do somebody else’s job,” Narduzzi said.

He pointed to a play Saturday against Duke where quarterback Daniel Jones faked a handoff to the jet sweep (outside) and ran inside for 20 yards against the nickel defense.

The nickel, with one more player in the secondary, isn’t the best defense against a run, but that’s not why the play worked for the Blue Devils, Narduzzi said.

“I don’t think it came down to ‘Oh, nickel, we can’t stop the run,’ because we’ve proven we can stop the run in nickel or sub-personnel,” he said.

“When you have guys that want to make a play, they’re hungry, God bless them, they want to make plays. But you have to do it within the framework of the defense. Run the same play next play, it’s (no gain).”

The structure of the defense also can be a problem, if the communication among players is faulty.

“One bust in the back end where it’s poor communication on a big screen pass to the tailback,” he said. “Total flat miscommunication where 10 guys are doing the right thing, and one guy makes the wrong call to a corner, and you got a big play.”

Handing out less playing time to players who don’t figure out the details is one answer, but not the best one.

“The quicker they figure it out the better it is,” Narduzzi said. “The guys who don’t figure it out will see less time. It’s the nature of the beast.”

The importance of focus becomes even more of critical with the loss of Camp, who has been the team’s most disruptive force at defensive tackle this season.

“He’s a penetrator. He caused havoc in the backfield,” Narduzzi said. “That didn’t help us at all.”

Camp, 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, started three of the past four games and leads all interior linemen with two sacks among his 14 tackles. He also has two quarterback hurries.

Junior Amir Watts, who has a sack, interception and quarterback hurry, and redshirt freshman Jalen Twyman are listed as co-starters at defensive tackle this week.

Narduzzi hinted depth also might come from a player who hasn’t been in a game yet this season. He didn’t mention a name, but freshman Devin Danielson of Thomas Jefferson might be a candidate.

Under new NCAA redshirt guidelines, anyone who hasn’t played to date can participate in the final four regular-season games without losing a year of eligibility.

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