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College Football: Pittsburgh Panthers Still Learning to Roar
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12 Nov 2017 06:35 PM EST

-by Bo Marchointe, Contributing Writer; Image: Pittsburgh seeks focus at quarterback with Ben DiNucci. (Image Source: Jason Pohuski/College2Pro)

Pittsburgh, PA— The Pittsburgh Panthers lost many substantial players from last season’s team, which many college programs do. Several went to the NFL. In all, five players were drafted from Pitt: Adam Bisnowaty, James Conner, Dorian Johnson, Nate Peterman, and Ejuan Price. National Champion Clemson had one loss last season and it came against the group led by the players mentioned above.

Coming off a Thursday night loss to drop them to 4-6, Pitt still aims to attend their tenth-straight Bowl Game appearance. However, it will be a tough task, as they will face Virginia Tech and undefeated Miami (Fla.).

“They believe in what we are going,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said after the team’s 31-14 victory over Virginia, their second-consecutive ACC win. “It’s a process. It’s a growing process and they are learning every week.”

Narduzzi is also learning on the fly, learning who will be his go-to players when next season begins. Instability at quarterback, a changing of the guard at running back, and a young core on defense, leaves some bright glimpses of excitement for next season.

“We’re getting a little bit better,” Narduzzi said about his young defensive unit. “We didn’t have one senior on the field the entire game, with Avonte Maddox out. We continue to have fun and do the little things right most of the time.”

While the narrative is to win, the reality is the task may be a bit more demanding than this young, but talented, growing team is capable of.

“I think every week the coaches have more confidence in me,” quarterback Ben DiNucci said. “The most I get out there, the more confident I will be.”

Grad transfer Max Browne was supposed to be the single season answer at quarterback for the Panthers. That theory ended against Rice after he injured his shoulder. It resulted in season ending surgery and thus leaving the team using a combination of DiNucci and Kenny Pickett.

After the Oklahoma State defeat, Narduzzi stated, “I think we’ve got two pretty good quarterbacks. Do we have a great quarterback? No, not right now. Nathan Peterman was a great quarterback walking out of here. You miss guys like that. That’s what happens when you’re a young football team at a lot of different spots, not just the quarterback spot.”

This is a team searching for a new identity, looking for the next James Conner and Ejuan Price.

Even when Browne was healthy, Narduzzi was facing decisions on which the quarterback was going to be week in and week out.

Would anyone reading, be unsurprised if DiNucci struggles, he is yanked for Pickett in one of the final two games?

Exactly!

Coach Narduzzi is looking for the right guy to take his program back to a winning program after this down season. If DiNucci is his man he takes it and if Pickett evolves quicker than expected, then he may get his chance.

Junior running back Darrin Hall, has seen his play expand over the weeks, including 121 yards on 23 carries in Thursday night’s loss to UNC. Over the course of the first six games, Qadree Ollison out-touched Hall 65 to 22 carries. Over the last four weeks, Hall has carried the football 81 times compared to Ollison’s 10.

If the trend and his tremendous play continue, (486 yards rushing last three games) Hall will enter 2018 as the main ball carrier for Narduzzi.

A lot of moving parts still in transition as the puzzle pieces are strategically placed to maximize the team’s overall ability to win games.

“They’re still puppies,” Narduzzi joked about a defense that didn’t have a single senior starter. “They don’t bark real loud right now. They growl a little bit.”

They are Panthers, so hopefully they learn how to roar…

To Read More from Bo Marchionte go to College2Pro.com.

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