Narduzzi looks ahead to Iowa game

Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi looks ahead to this week’s matchup at Iowa, while discussing several other topics related to the Panthers, in his weekly press conference in the Steel City.

Opening Remarks:

“We had a great win. Anytime you get a win, it’s a great one. It’s always good to win on the road. Akron was a good football team and I thought they were exceptional on the front seven—and that turned out to be true. There was some nasty weather, it was sloppy. Our kids had a great attitude they were [positive] going into it and played with it.

“I really thought our kids were locked in on the trip. It was a great job by both teams holding onto the ball, but we ended up being plus-one there which we needed. We always have to win the turnover ratio and we won the time possession as well. We had four drives of eight plays or more for our offense. Eight being the lowest, I believe we had a couple 10 or 13-play drives and that’s huge. That’s how you win the time possession and that’s what we lacked the week before. We kept making these explosive gains but we didn’t have that time possession. We would like to have both.

“Defensively, we had six three-and-outs, which helps our time possession. It takes offense and defense to win that possession [battle]. Our defense goes three-and-out, six out of the 13 possessions, I think that plays a part too. We’re giving the ball back to our offense, it gets the ball going, and it keeps the drive going. All of those things are bonuses.

“We have a big road game, with a crazy atmosphere, out at the University of Iowa. I don’t believe I’ve ever played at night there so I can imagine that it’s going to be a good atmosphere for our kids and theirs. We told our guys yesterday that preseason is over. This is a big time for us to find out what we have. Our guys are going to prepare a little bit more every week as we go on. The games get a little bit bigger and we’ll be 2-0 going out to Iowa City. It’s going to be a big ball game.”

On Iowa coach and Pittsburgh native Kirk Ferentz:

“Kirk Ferentz is an offensive-minded coach. He’s an O-line guru and a tremendous football coach. [Iowa] will be known for their toughness and like us, will be known as a blue-collared tough football team. It will be a tough football team up front. They have a lot of [alumni] playing in the NFL, seems like they have a first-rounder every year. They’re going to be a tough football team. We have to be ready.”

On the staff deciding on the starting quarterback:

“We don’t decide; the kids decide. We play the guys who have practiced the best. Chad [Voytik] comes prepared every week and I don’t expect him to come any less prepared this week. We have to go with whoever has the hot hand. We have two very capable quarterbacks and you become a good football team when there is competition. I feel comfortable with both of those guys. When you have a team like this, Nathan [Peterman] and Chad spend at least one night out of the week together. They’re close. We have a tight-knit football team. We’ll find out who has a better week at practice and we’ll try to make a decision. Everyone has good and bad days and this happens with quarterbacks, too. Neither one of them had that in the past two weeks but it’s just whoever has the hot hand.”

On coaches communicating with players on their standing in the lineup:

“We communicate with our guys every day. Coach [Jim] Chaney is going to be in constant contact with them. The first thing that you have is that relationship with the players that you talk to. There’s nothing worse than a quarterback walking out and not knowing where he stands that day. There has to be that communication between staff and players. It is constant communication and it’s constant competition with every position. I don’t care if it’s linebacker, quarterback or left tackle. Communication is going to be there. We expect our guys to come to practice every day and practice well if they want to play. If they don’t practice a whole bunch, I’m not sure how comfortable I am putting them out there on the field on Saturday.”

On if he’ll wait until the end of the week to assign the starting quarterback:

“We’re going to wait until Thursday. We want to make sure we’re sharp and detailed because this is important. There’s no question that we’ll wait until the end of practices this week. We do that with every position.”

On the impact on an opposing defensive coordinator when he doesn’t know who the quarterback is:

“I would like to know who it is. Both of those guys are very similar, they have similar styles with what they do on tape. As a defensive coach, I would like to know. Since I don’t, it makes you wonder about the [player]. You would like to know what you’re preparing for.”

On if he hopes a quarterback will separate himself:

“Yes, you always hope for that. I think both of those guys are pretty equal back there. We’ll find out in the heat of the battle.”

On if the Iowa visitors’ locker room is still painted pink:

“Yes it is. Pink toilets, pink everything. I don’t think there’s any pink water coming out of the faucets, but everything is pink.”

On if Nate Peterman shows anything different in games than in practice:

“Sometimes. I mean, sometimes just the knowledge and all that. You see different things. Every day is different. Every day is a different day for these kids. I think we forget, you know the Steelers are out there practicing, [our players] aren’t like those guys. Those guys woke up, had a heck of a breakfast and come out there and game plan. These [Pitt] guys are going to class, they have a test that evening and might have to study for a test. So you see something different every day. These guys are student-athletes, they’re not just football players.”

On if he’d like one quarterback to step up and seize the starting job:

“So you guys don’t ask me questions about it anymore? I think eventually you’d like to have that, yeah.”

On how Chad Voytik responded to not playing as much last week:

“Chad is a most unbelievable kid. If you get to know him, he’s a leader, he’s a competitor, and you can guarantee on Tuesday he’ll be coming out there competing. He’ll probably want to take his red [no contact] jersey off, turn it loose and just put a regular old jersey on. He’s a competitor, he’s a leader and it doesn’t get any better than Chad Voytik as far as character goes. And Nathan, for that part, is the same way. I mean, Nathan came in battling as well, trying to be the starter. He’s taken it well, and just kept plugging away. That’s how you become a good football team is when there’s competition. Nobody is giving in, and that’s the way you want it to be at every position.”

On Qadree Ollison’s first game as a starter:

“He was good. He could’ve been better, like a lot of us. I probably could’ve been better, too. I think he was a little sore, though. Qadree was good. Was he great? No. He missed some things. Darrin Hall came in and played pretty solid, too. It’s his first start, too. It’s always easy coming in as a reliever, don’t forget that. It takes a little bit of pressure off of you when you’re not the guy starting. Qadree came in being the guy with maybe a little bit more pressure on him than he wanted or we wanted, but he’ll step up. You could say that the Youngstown game was his first game. He came in and didn’t have any time to think about being the guy. He had no idea he was going to be the guy. Now that he has an idea he’s the guy, we’ll see how he responds in week two.”

On Avonte Maddox’s play in the secondary through two games:

“He’s been a gamer. He’s a guy that you watched in practice, and what you saw in practice every single day was what you saw on the field. Whatever you saw in the fourth quarter program, or the summer conditioning program, you’ve seen on the field. That guy is a football player, whether it be on special teams or on defense at corner, he’s made plays. He’s a gamer.”

On Pitt’s pass protection:

“We have a lot of guys rotating in there. We have to protect the quarterback, obviously, better than we did [on Saturday]. Like I said, they [Akron] had two very good defensive ends that are athletic and physical. We just have to continue to understand what someone is doing to us. We have to change some of our sets. We can’t just rely on the same set every time. That’s something the young guys are going to have to learn how to do, and they will.”

On if Reggie Mitchell’s health caused Terrish Webb to be listed as this week’s starting safety:

“It’s a little bit of both, to be honest with you. Reggie Mitchell is a guy who started off in spring ball as the starting free safety. Then in camp he got banged up a little bit. T. Webb came in and Webb has been one of those guys that plays better than he practices at times, which is great for him. That’s what you find out on game day. I’m happy with where Terrish is. He’s doing a nice job. Reggie will have his hands full when he comes back.”

On having a long string of road games:

“We have one game. One game. We have one game at Iowa, that’s all I need to know. I don’t know about strings. We’ll talk about that one game.”

On Chris James’ health and availability at running back:

“Chris was ready to go last week. He’s 100 percent ready to go. Again, it comes down to practice. We want to be careful with him. We put him in a yellow jersey as kind of one of those caution lights. I was with [assistant athletic director] Chris LaSala today and he ran through a yellow light and I was like, ‘Slow down, can’t go through a yellow light.’ We try to slow some guys down and not hit them. With the weather being like it was and him not getting hit and holding on to the ball and ball security being important, it was just one of those things that if we didn’t need him, let’s not throw him out there. If he fumbles the ball, then I’m going to look at myself and say, ‘Shoot, he didn’t take a hit all week.’ Maybe we shouldn’t have put him in the game and not put him in a bad position. He’ll be ready to go, for sure. He’s going to take some hits this week, too.”

On Jordan Whitehead and Pat Amara at strong safety:

“Pat didn’t get a whole lot of snaps back there on the hash for whatever reason…We probably should’ve rotated Pat in a little more, but that happens every week. There weren’t many snaps. We played 49 total snaps, probably with a couple penalties, so more like 47 snaps on defense. So you didn’t have 65, 75 snaps like we did the week before. There’s been 113 snaps before when you need everybody. It was cool, there was no heat concerns and Jordan was doing a nice job, so we didn’t feel that we needed to get Pat in there. We probably should’ve just to get him an opportunity to show what he’s got. Jordan Whitehead has had really a tremendous football camp for a guy as young as he is and for maybe not having as much knowledge as you’d imagine for a freshman. But he’s really done a nice job, so we’re happy with where he is. Pat is a competitor and he’ll be back there some more.”

On offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty:

“Biz is getting healthy. He was probably healthy last week, but he didn’t practice. Hopefully he’ll get some reps in this week and we’ll have him back.”

On if he’s curious to see how his team matches up with a Power-5 team in Iowa:

“Of course. Every coach is. Like I told the kids last night, they don’t care what you did last week. Even if you beat USC last weekend, they don’t care what you did last time or the week before. We only care about next Saturday. That’s all we care about. That’s all I really care about. I don’t care how many sacks you had. I want to know how many sacks you’re going to have this week or how many touchdown passes. You get more curious every week how we’re going to react on the field in a big-time atmosphere on national TV. It’ll certainly be interesting. Again, you can get beat at any second, so you better come ready. Arkansas saw that this week with Toledo and Maryland saw that this week with Bowling Green. We could’ve seen it, but we came ready to play and our guys played a darn good ball game. We can say it’s easy, but it isn’t easy. Every game is a battle.”

On if he is concerned about finding a complementary receiver to Tyler Boyd:

“You say that, but Dontez Ford had a heck of a catch against Youngstown. I’m not sure how many catches he had or opportunities he had, but I really like what Dontez has done for us. Zach Challingsworth is a player. It’s just a matter of who you’re showcasing. Some guys do need to step up and we have to get the ball to those other guys. I guarantee that Iowa is probably going to double team, and really Akron did too. Late in the game they started putting two guys on Tyler [Boyd]. We have to go to the other guy to open up Tyler, so it’s important, especially against Iowa. They do a great job in coverage. They’re very similar to us defensively. They’re very sound. They’re not going to get real fancy with what they do. What they do is they match routes good in the passing game and they’ll get on you. They’ll make plays in the back end, so we have to do a good job of mixing it up. If we just try to go Tyler the whole time, we’ll have problems.”

On if James Conner will return this season:

“Ask James. I don’t think so. He’d be crazy and we’d have a big, long talk. That doesn’t mean he won’t be ready to play, but will we do that? I can’t tell you he won’t be ready. We had a player at Michigan State come down with cancer. They said he’d never play again. Well, he did. Doctors said he couldn’t play, he almost lost his leg, and that’s all someone had to do is say he couldn’t. Then, all of a sudden, he came back. Maybe I should say he can’t, and then he’ll come back and play. For his best interest, he needs to get healthy.”