PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi doesn't spend a lot of time focusing on the big picture. He prefers to stay attuned to the little one. It's why he tries to divide each season into 12 separate but equal tests, one no more important than another.
Yet Narduzzi also understands he's not a perpetually plugged in 20-year-old player. Which is why he hasn't felt the need to remind the Panthers (3-4, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) where they're at heading into the stretch run.
"They all have cellphones, look at the standings, I'm sure, besides other things on Twitter, the internet," Narduzzi said Monday. "They understand where they are. I don't have to emphasize it."
A painful 19-14 loss at unbeaten Notre Dame on Oct. 13 was an emotional blow but inflicted no real damage on Pitt's long-term goals. The Panthers are still right in the thick of things in the crowded ACC Coastal Division race, tied in the loss column with Virginia and Miami and one game ahead of Duke (5-2, 1-2), which visits Heinz Field on Saturday.
Of course, one misstep and none of it matters. Pitt's margin for error is thin. Very thin.
"After a week, if you don't get your job done, standings don't mean as much," Narduzzi said.
Narduzzi spent the team's off week assessing areas that need work while allowing there is no one unit that is above reproach.
The Panthers gave up at least 37 points to North Carolina, Central Florida and Syracuse, then kept the Fighting Irish in check on the road. The offense has looked balanced at times and totally ineffective trying to pass the ball at others. The special teams have been a mixed bag. Kicker Alex Kessman booted two 50-plus yard field goals in an overtime victory against the Orange , then missed a pair of short kicks against Notre Dame that could have provided the difference, and a fake punt attempt late against the Irish went awry when backup quarterback Jeff George Jr. threw incomplete on fourth down in the fourth quarter.
George's botched shot at a trick play may have served as a microcosm of his team's erratic season. Narduzzi allowed that George probably should have just kicked the ball when nothing developed, but George wanted to try to make something happen.
"That's our fault as coaches," Narduzzi said. "We didn't coach that good enough. If he's not doing it (right), it's because we didn't make him do it."
Narduzzi appointed George — who transferred to Pitt in August after a brief stopover at Michigan following three years at Illinois — the second-string quarterback behind Kenny Pickett. There does not appear, however, to be any sort of controversy in the offing. The starting job remains Pickett's as Narduzzi searches for ways to get going a passing game ranked 117th in the nation to complement a running game that's been effective behind seniors Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall.
"First thing is we're going to stand on the run," Narduzzi said. "That's what we do well right now. We're going to run the football and set the pass up with the run. That's Pittsburgh to begin with. That's tough football. We certainly have to throw the ball better than we are, period."
Pitt is 125th in yards per completion (9.54). Only Indiana, Texas-San Antonio, Rutgers and Northern Illinois have a harder time getting the ball down the field. Narduzzi wouldn't mind a more aggressive approach by offensive coordinator Shawn Watson but also doesn't believe the Panthers need to start chucking it deep just to do that.
"It's a little bit of everything, period," Narduzzi said. "It's 11 guys out there. It's protection, feeling comfortable. Who is in the game at receiver? Are they making plays? Are they open on time? It's a lot."