PITTSBURGH (AP) The script is a familiar, one Pittsburgh is eager to toss in the shredder.
The Panthers have made a habit of struggling to put together consistently solid performances, a major reason why the program has been stuck on the treadmill of .500 football for the better part of a decade. Pitt hopes to start the process of jumping off on Saturday against reeling Virginia.
It’s why first-year coach Pat Narduzzi did his best to downplay last week’s 17-13 win at Virginia Tech, one that looked pretty good both on paper and on the field. The Panthers (3-1, 1-0 ACC) held the Hokies to 100 total yards and racked up seven sacks. Not that you’d know it if you spent time in the film room this week.
”Say if it’s a game of inches, and it’s only that far from getting you beat one way or the other,” Narduzzi said. ”We just can’t have that. There’s always something you can do better with every position. There are a lot of little things that the coaches see.”
The big picture, however, remains promising. Pitt can put itself in position to be a factor in the ACC Coastal Division, not bad for a team picked to finish sixth in preseason.
While the Panthers seem to be heading in the right direction, the Cavaliers (1-3) are listing under Mike London. A difficult early schedule hasn’t helped. Virginia nearly upset Notre Dame last month only to lose in the final moments and the last time the Cavaliers took the field, Boise State promptly ran them off it in a nationally televised 56-14 thumping.
London is doing his best to spin it forward, pointing to a conference play as a chance to rectify missteps.
”I believe this football team can and will be a better football team coming out of those games that we played,” London said. ”That’s the focus.”
It’s a mantra repeated frequently by Narduzzi, who is well aware Pitt’s recent history of taking one seemingly impressive step forward only to follow it up with an equally disappointing step back. Last year Pitt beat the Hokies only to fumble five times in the first half of a 28-point loss to Georgia Tech. In 2013 an emotional victory over Notre Dame was followed up by a loss to North Carolina. Maybe that’s why he’s hasn’t coached this week like a guy whose team is coming off one of its best defensive games in years.
”It’s coming out motivated and hungry for the next game, not just sitting there going, `Hey, you did good!’ Everybody up on campus is happy saying, `Nice job,’ and all of that bologna,” Narduzzi said.
Some things to look for when the Panthers try to improve to 4-1 for the first time since 2009 while the Cavaliers try to jumpstart their season.
PROTECTION: Virginia quarterback Matt Johns was harassed all game during that miserable Sept. 25 loss to Boise State, much like the Panthers harassed Virginia Tech’s Brenden Motley last week. If an off week hasn’t allowed the Cavaliers to find a way to protect Johns better, whether with quick passes or blocking, it could be a long night for the visitors.
QB SHUFFLE: While Nate Peterman appears entrenched as the starting quarterback, Chad Voytik will continue to get snaps. Voytik is a far better runner than Peterman and his 37 yards rushing last week helped get the Panthers out of some tough spots.
ROAD WOES: Virginia has lost 11 consecutive road games since winning at N.C. State on Nov. 3, 2012.
RALLYING CRY: The Cavaliers were off last weekend, and while that usually means players disperse to go home or just get away for a few days, many stayed behind and held voluntary workouts.
OPERATING OLLISON: Qadree Ollison appears to have claimed the top running back spot in place of injured James Conner. Ollison ran for 122 yards and a score against the Hokies, the kind of separation Narduzzi was hoping for after Conner was lost for the season with a knee injury. ”He can play like that once (being physical) becomes a habit because that’s how tailbacks run,” Narduzzi said. ”I think he may have figured that out. Hopefully, he can just get downhill and run.”
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.
AP College Football Website: www.collegefootball.ap.org