No. 24 Pitt hosts Rhode Island, Narduzzi’s alma mater

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pat Narduzzi has always been a fixer. A project guy. Whether it’s repainting an office or slowly building a program, the Pittsburgh coach is always drawn to something that occupies his hands or his mind.

Rhode Island gave him a chance to do both.

Narduzzi spent three years playing for the Rams in the late 1980s as a linebacker who did more on moxie than talent. A coach’s son, Narduzzi admits he had an 8mm film projector in his dorm so he could review the game tape. He returned to his alma mater in the mid-1990s as a positional coach and then defensive coordinator, a relentless ball of energy that had no “off” switch.

“It was just one thing after another (with him),” said Pitt running backs coach Andre Powell, who first met Narduzzi when they were both on staff Rams. “I was going to his house and he was like, ‘Hey, I cut a hole in the wall and put in a closet. He was just always moving, always thinking.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and little has changed for Narduzzi. Mentally anyway.

“He’s the same guy (now),” Powell said before adding with a laugh, “except he had abs (then).”

Narduzzi, 56, is always ready to think about what’s next, one of the reasons he isn’t particularly interested in turning Saturday’s game between the Panthers (2-1) and Rhode Island (2-1 ) in a soccer game. version of “It’s your life”.

The visit from the Rams is a way for Narduzzi to repay the school for everything it has done for him, yes. And his memories of his 10-plus years in the Ocean State are fond. But when the ball is thrown, it will focus on Pitt not bumping into an FCS program before the start of next week’s Atlantic Coast Conference game against Georgia Tech.

“I think our guys are quite mature, they understand,” Narduzzi said. “They learned from the past.”

That was certainly the case last week in Western Michigan. On the road for the first time with a third-string quarterback, Pitt avenged an upset home loss to the Broncos in 2021 with a 34-13 victory.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Nate Yarnell threw for 179 yards and a touchdown, though Narduzzi indicated USC transfer Kedon Slovis should be available. Slovis served as a backup for Yarnell last Saturday after suffering an undisclosed injury in the first half of an overtime loss to Tennessee on September 10.

Narduzzi joked that the coaching staff might have to strap Slovis down to keep him off the court, although a little Slovis could go a long way for the Panthers, who have rediscovered their ground game after relying heavily on the former quarterback Kenny Pickett over the past few seasons.

Junior Israel Abanikanda currently leads the ACC in rushing yards with 307, including 133 against Western Michigan on 31 carries.

“As the game went on, he got stronger,” Powell said. “He got stronger when you could tell the opponent was wearing himself out. You looked at him there and he wasn’t tired.

Abanikanda’s emergence came with second Rodney Hammond indefinitely with a lower-body injury, although Vincent Davis – buried on the depth board after a sluggish training camp – added 81 yards against the Broncos .

It’s that kind of depth that may be the biggest difference between the Panthers now and the program Narduzzi inherited when he took over in December 2014. Pitt faces injury issues along the offensive line , wide receiver – the status of leading wide receiver Jared Wayne is unknown after leaving the West Michigan game after taking a high hit – and elsewhere and still looks like a legitimate threat to defend the title of the ACC which they won a year ago.

Narduzzi is encouraged but also a little anxious. Last week was promising. But that was last week. As always, he’s obsessed with what’s next.

“We have to keep going, keep making progress,” he said. “We’ll know where we are here in a few weeks.”


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