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Penn State no ordinary opponent for Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi

Judging by Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi's approach with restricting media access to his players, it's clear that he doesn't consider the Penn State game like any other. On Monday in his weekly press conference, he talked more about the rivalry with the Nittany Lions. While acknowledging that every game is in its own right a big one, there's little question that the Penn State one means a little more to him.

"Penn State game is a big game because it's an in-state rivalry game," explained Narduzzi. "It's important not only to the guys that sit in this room but the community out there, the state of Pennsylvania, to the city of Pittsburgh. It's a pride thing, and that's why it's big."

Narduzzi talked up other games like Oklahoma State and Youngstown State. And that's not even touching on the conference games, which are arguably the biggest of all. But the game against the Nittany Lions has all sorts of factors, including recruiting, the team's overall record, and just plain old pride.

And in case you weren't convinced where Narduzzi stood about the question of a rivalry from that first quote, he spoke more about it later in the presser.

"I'm not going to speak for them," Narduzzi said, regarding Penn State. "I know it's a rivalry game for us, but some people think it's a rivalry game, some people don't. It doesn't matter what they think. It just matters what we think, and if we think it is, then it is for us, and it doesn't have to be for them. It really doesn't. Everybody has different rivalries."

There's a lot to be said for that. Rivalries don't always have to be a two-way street. And, even though I think it's foolish of Penn State fans that don't consider Pitt a rival, at the end of the day, none of that matters. Pitt is clearly Penn State's biggest rival historically and, even if their side doesn't acknowledge it, it doesn't really change that fact.

Rivalry? Yes. Hatred? Narduzzi wasn't willing to take things that far.

"We're just going to play the game," he added. "We're just going to play football. There's no hate here. I know that. But I don't think there's any hate there, either."

I sort of chuckled when I heard that line and I'm doing the same now even as I think about it again. Do I buy that? I don't know. I guess there's a thin line between hatred and having a healthy dislike for a program.

My guess is that, ultimately, Narduzzi feels the way most Pitt fans do. We just really, really don't like the Nittany Lions. Do we hate them? Ask me Saturday.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pat Narduzzi discusses his decision to cut off media access for Penn State week

On Sunday, Pitt sent out a press release indicating that players would again not be available to the media for this week in advance to the Penn State game. That, of course, was met with complaints by the media and as I said earlier, I get all of that. Ultimately, though, I don't think it impacts the everyday fan very much, as I outlined in depth here.

In Monday at his weekly press conference, Narduzzi addressed the issue.

"Understand this has nothing to do with you guys, either," the Pitt coach said. "I love you guys. It has nothing to do with keeping you out, it's just keeping our kids tight. It has nothing to do -- as a matter of fact, after the game we'll give you more guys, win or lose. That's what we'll do. So it's not a matter of anything you guys did. I respect you guys."

Narduzzi also indicated it wasn't based out of a fear of his players saying the wrong thing.

"EJ (Borghetti) does a good job just teaching them how to talk to the media, and I don't worry," he continued. "If there's a guy that I would worry about something they'd say, I wouldn't let you have them anyway, so we could control that and I could just give you all the guys that I wouldn't worry about, but no, it has nothing to do with that, either.

I believe that. Now, I do think that by shutting off access to players, you avoid that entirely, so I think it's an added benefit. And as I said before, even if you don't believe a player will say something foolish, there's always that chance. But I take Narduzzi at his word when he says it's not really about that aspect.

Overall, Narduzzi says he just wants to keep the guys focused and, whether or not cutting off media access does that, he's well within his right to take that approach.

Now, one thing Narduzzi added, which will draw some ire is that, this may not even be a one time deal. If Pitt finds itself up against a big ACC game, for example, Narduzzi says he may take the same approach.

"There might be a real good chance of that, yeah," said Narduzzi when asked if the media could be blocked out again. "You know, why not? I didn't say it was -- I didn't give you a rule that we could only do it once a year. It's not like one and done. But yeah."

Essentially, I'm fine with the approach. But what I wouldn't want to see is this happening with any sort of regularity. Narduzzi owes it to the media that cover the team relentlessly to have some access to players. If this is happening week after week, that's a problem. And even beyond that, you're cutting off players' ability to learn how to work with the media, which some of them will need if they play in the pros. But do I have an issue with this on an irregular basis for a big game or two a year? Not really.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt linebacker Quintin Wirginis out for season

Pitt didn't suffer any major injuries in the Youngstown State game but the Panthers still announced a significant loss of a player on Monday.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi announced that the team will be without linebacker Quintin Wirginis for the season due to a non-football injury. As usual, he didn't elaborate much, but the plan is to now redshirt him.

"Quintin Wirginis will be out for the year with a non-football related injury, so after a suspension, we have an injury, so he's a guy that really is lost for the year," Narduzzi said at his weekly press conference. "Disappointing, but something we deal with. That's what we do. And obviously happy with how Saleem (Brightwell) played and led the defense out there Saturday, so we'll continue to go in that manner."

The year got off to a bad start for him when he was suspended along with Jordan Whitehead for the first three games of the year. Now, instead of returning, he'll just sit out the entire season.

Wirginis is a senior and, while not a starter, has been a valuable contributor for the team. He hasn't posted a ton of big numbers, but is a solid reserve for the team. He got onto the field as a true freshman in 2014 playing mostly special teams, blocked a punt in 2015, and last year, had four sacks and a fumble recovery. Wirginis was expected to challenge for a starting spot this year as a senior with Brightwell.

The loss of Wirginis hurts, obviously. Even if he didn't overtake Brightwell as the starter, he was still one of the team's top reserves and, from a depth and experience standpoint, will be missed.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt vs. Penn State Preview: Panthers will have their hands full with Nittany Lions

Last week, Pitt barely escaped with a 28-21 win in their opener against Youngstown State. The team's next opponent, Penn State, had far less trouble with Akron in a 52-0 romp.

Of course, there were some reasons for the Panthers' struggles. The team was playing shorthanded missing starters Alex Bookser and Jordan Whitehead, as well as linebacker Quintin Wirginis, due to suspensions. Pitt also ran seemingly as basic an offense as possible in an effort to not show their hand to Penn State. That strategy worked to perfection last year as the Nittany Lions were routinely caught off guard by what Pitt was doing after the Panthers also enjoyed a relatively easy victory against Villanova. But this year, it nearly cost them as they were forced to overtime by the Penguins. Pitt players admitted after the game that there was some easing up after a 21-0 lead against Youngstown State and that contributed to a game that was closer than expected.

While playing with those handicaps in the opening contest was ultimately overcome, Pitt, of course, will have their hands full with a top ten Penn State team that is expected to challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Last season, Pitt defeated Penn State in a largely entertaining game, 42-39. This year's Pitt team, however, is drastically different.

Gone is Nathan Peterman, who has played well in the preseason and could be the Buffalo Bills starter if Tyrod Taylor can't get over injury issues. Gone is James Conner, who will be playing at Heinz Field this year, but with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Also gone are other 2017 NFL Draft Picks Dorian Johnson, Ejuan Price, and Adam Bisnowaty. The Panthers' offense, too, has changed with the team losing coordinator Matt Canada in the offseason to LSU. Defensively, Pitt brings an almost entirely new defensive line to Happy Valley and also suffered some other personnel losses. And to make matters worse, in addition to losing other key contributors from last year, the Panthers are also still without Whitehead at safety, who has two more games to go on his suspension. You shouldn't need me to tell you that the Panthers team that defeated Penn State last year is markedly different from this one but there it is.

By contrast, the Nittany Lions team that Pitt faced early last year is different, too. The Panthers were fortunate to catch Penn State earlier in the season as the Nittany Lions improved as the year went along and wound up winning a Big Ten championship before losing in the Rose Bowl. Penn State's team is largely the same but a year older and a year better.

The Nittany Lions' offense is what should really concern Pitt fans. Running back Saquon Barkley is a legit a Heisman contender and he had 172 rushing yards in limited work against Akron. While he's the best player on the team, he may not even have the biggest day against the Panthers as the Pitt secondary proved they have much work to be done after giving up over 300 passing yards to Youngstown State. Quarterback Trace McSorely and his talented receivers could have an absolute field day against Pitt on Saturday. That's particularly true with the Whitehead loss as he's the best player in Pitt's shaky secondary.

The teams aren't only different as the environment will be as well. Pitt will take their show on the road and play in front of what should be a hostile environment after playing to a mostly pro-Pitt crowd last season. One good thing is that the Panthers did that last year when they traveled to Clemson and played extremely well, winning and becoming the only team to defeat the Tigers in their national championship season. But as stated above, the Panthers were just a different team last season.

When you add everything up, Penn State has no reason not to win this game. The Nittany Lions aren't only expected to win, but to win big. The game opened back in May with Pitt as nearly three-touchdown underdogs. Everything is aligned for them this year and my stance now is the same as it was earlier this year:

If you're Penn State, you better win that game

Don't get me wrong, I fully expect them to do just that. But all of the pressure is on them and a loss to Pitt, while not ruining their season (as Clemson proved last year), would be an embarrassing thing to try to explain away to recruits and fans. If you're the Nittany Lions, this is a game you should and must win without question. Heck, even a close win would be considered a disappointment on some level since they will enter the game as such heavy favorites.

If there's one thing Pitt has going for them, they should be able to play looser. The Panthers won last year's game and shouldn't be facing anywhere near the pressure that Penn State has this season. Pitt has absolutely no reason to not throw everything out there and just play to win. Penn State will be doing the same, obviously, but Pitt has no reason to be tight and restricted in any way. Worst case scenario, you lose a game that many expected you to drop and you move on to another non-conference game before the ACC season begins. Get on the field, play your guts out, and make every play count.

None of that is to suggest Pitt has no shot here as bigger upsets have happened. The Panthers knocked off Clemson on the road last season and, in a heated rivalry game, shocked West Virginia in 2007 as they appeared to be headed to a national championship game. But if the Panthers are going to win, they'll need an incredibly strong performance, some turnovers, and probably a good bit of luck to pull off an upset here. Penn State has the better team and an added bit of motivation after losing last season's contest. And getting the game at home, there's little doubt as to why they are the big favorites going into this one.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Fake spike caps UCLA’s rally from 34-point deficit

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen took a page out of Dan Marino’s playbook as the Bruins rallied from a 34-point deficit to stun Texas A&M 45-44 on Sunday.

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The Aggies, trailing 44-38, had converted a fourth-and-6 play and 43 seconds remained when Rosen came to the line and appeared to call for a spike to stop the clock. Instead, Rosen lofted a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Lasley in the left corner of the end zone to tie the game, and UCLA converted the extra point to seal its improbable victory.

The touchdown pass capped a 10-play, 66-yard drive that started with 1:56 to play. Rosen led the Bruins on five straight touchdown drives in the second half. He passed for 491 yards and four touchdowns to erase a 44-10, third-quarter deficit.

Marino pulled off a similar play for the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 27, 1994. Trailing 24-21 with 38 seconds left, Miami had the ball on the New York Jets’ 8-yard line. Marino ran to the line of scrimmage and yelled “clock,” motioning that he was going to stop the clock by a spike. Instead, Marino took the snap and lofted a touchdown pass to Mark Ingram to give the Dolphins a 28-24 victory.

Unions won’t hold flag in Cleveland Browns’ opening game ceremony

Members of unions representing Cleveland policemen and paramedics said they will not participate in the Browns’ opening game ceremonies and hold a large U.S. flag on Sept. 10, WKYC reported.

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Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association president Steve Loomis said that union members had been scheduled to help hold the American flag before the Browns’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, along with other law enforcement officials and military personnel. However, the union decided to back out of the ceremony after 11 members of the Browns decided to kneel in prayer during the national anthem before the team’s preseason game against the New York Giants on Aug. 21.

Loomis said union members were angered when they learned that Browns management knew about the protest before the game but did not stop it.

“As a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and the United States Navy, and a 24-year veteran of the Cleveland Police Department, I am not going to participate or work with management that allows their players to disrespect the flag and the national anthem,” Loomis told WKYC.

Loomis said the Browns are aware of the union’s plans and sent him a statement saying they were “disappointed” the officers were not “honoring their commitment” to help hold the flag.

“I find that completely hypocritical," Loomis told WKYC.

Pitt players will again not be available to media in advance of Penn State game ... and we'll all live

Last year, head coach Pat Narduzzi raised quite a stir among local media when it was announced that Pitt's players would not be available to speak to the media before the Penn State game. The Panthers won the game 42-39 and Narduzzi is keeping the same policy this year.

In the weekly media briefing distributed by the athletics department, it was stated that coach Narduzzi would be the lone spokesperson for the program this week.

I can understand why this would cause a stir among the regular media that routinely cover the team on a daily basis. Having no player access limits what they can do from a storytelling standpoint to some degree. In addition, asking them to cover a team with no player access is, in a way, a bit unfair. But I'm not sure how much this really affects the fans. The media, of course, are developing these stories for fans and its readers so, in a roundabout sort of way, if the stories aren't as compelling, I suppose there's an argument that it hurts its readership. Aside from that, though, I just don't think this is much of a blow to the casual fan.

I can't speak for Narduzzi as to why he takes this approach but my guess is that it's about keeping his guys focused and to limit the possibility of one of them providing some bulletin board material. We can debate all day long if that really matters. And I suppose you can argue that, if the job of a college coach is to prepare his players (particularly ones with pro aspirations) to handle interviews in advance of big games, then Narduzzi is actually depriving them of that opportunity. But that's kind of a reach and at the end of the day, I just can't find it in myself to get too worked up over it.

Consider, too, that the chances of a player saying something so insightful that it needs to be out there for consumption is probably not worth the trouble of allowing for the possibility of somebody saying something that gives Penn State some ammunition. Can players provide decent insight? Sure. But, as a fan, I'm not sure that there's anything I need to hear from the players that's so valuable that it's worth risking someone saying something flippant and careless.

It's worth nothing that Pitt players have mostly avoided that pitfall and I can't think of too many instances where they said something that got them into trouble. Wide receiver Manasseh Garner made some ill-advised comments about the team not playing for the fans back in 2014 and even in that instance, it wasn't bulletin board material for another team. But just because stupid comments don't happen often doesn't mean that the team is immune to them. You get anyone talking enough and it's possible.

We'll all live without Qadree Ollison telling us how much energy there was for the game last year. Or Max Browne's Penn State parallels since his USC team faced them last year in the Rose Bowl. Or Dane Jackson admitting the secondary needs to step up. I just don't need any of that. Yes, it might be helpful to have to generate content, like when some players talked about taking their foot off the pedal after Youngstown State. But do I need that? Nah.

The driver here for future precedent will always be how Pitt performs in these games. If the Panthers go out and shock the world here, that will only make fans care less about how Narduzzi runs the team. If the approach works and he's winning with it, I'm not sure how you demand that he make the players available. Now, if Pitt goes out and loses the next two games with Penn State, maybe the pressure to make players accessible deepens.

Do I think it's an overreaction? Probably. But here's the thing - Narduzzi is in charge of the football program and that means operating it in what he views are its best interests. If that's how he feels about this, it's fine by me. It's not illegal and, while it might seem like paranoia to some, Narduzzi is the head coach. Let him run the freaking program. Lifespans of coaches are short. In addition to running a clean program and making sure his players get an education, his job is to win as many games as possible. If he genuinely thinks this gives him an advantage, I've got no beef with that - even if I might not necessarily agree.

My general theory is to let a coach run the program the way he/she thinks is best. As long as this doesn't turn into a dictatorship where he's restricting player access for a bunch of games, I'm generally okay with it. Frankly, what I really want more from Narduzzi on is transparency with injuries. This nonsense?

Meh.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Stacy Lewis ends LPGA victory drought, pledges tournament earnings to Houston

Earlier this week, women’s professional golfer Stacy Lewis promised to give back to her hurricane-ravaged hometown. Sunday, she delivered in a big way.

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Lewis won the Cambia Portland Classic, earning her first LPGA title since June 2014. The 32-year-old, who grew up in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands, promised in a Wednesday tweet that she would donate her tournament earnings to help relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. After shooting a 3-under-par 69 to win Sunday’s final round, Lewis donated her first-place check of $195,000.

“You know, when I said that I had the goal of winning the tournament -- you got to get a lot of things right, to go your way," Lewis told Golf.com. “Just what we're going to be able to do, we're going to be able to help rebuild houses and get their homes back. That's more important than anything."

Lewis still lives in the Houston area with her husband, Gerrod Chadwell, who is the women’s golf coach at the University of Houston. She had not won an LPGA event since the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship -- a drought of 83 starts. She had been the runner-up 12 times during that period.

One of Lewis’ sponsors, Marathon Oil, is pledging $1 million to the relief efforts, LPGA Tournament officials told ESPN. KPMG, another one of her sponsors, pledged to match her $195,000 donation.

Saturday night, Lewis said winning for Houston this week would be “up there” with her two major tournament victories.

“It would be probably one of my most special wins, just to be able to do this for the people in Texas and to do it too when everybody is watching,” she told Golf.com. “I kind of put all the eyeballs on me and put some pressure on myself, so it's nice to kind of see myself performing, too.”

Lewis finished at 20-under 268. She opened with rounds of 70, 64 and 65 to take a three-stroke lead into the final round.

Cardiac Hill Poll of the Week: Have you changed your expectations for the football team after Pitt's narrow Youngstown State win?

This weekend, Pitt narrowly won its season opener against Youngstown State. After jumping out to an early 21-0 lead, the Panthers were forced to head to overtime where they finally put away the Penguins, winning 28-21.

As bad as things were, Pitt is still 1-0, which is what was expected would be the team's record at this point. But did the team's poor second half play make you think twice about the team's ability to be competitive this year? Weigh in using the poll below.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.
Poll After the Youngstown State game, do you feel any worse about the team's prospects for having a successful year? Much worse Somewhat worse A little worse No   0 votes | Results

Cardiac Hill Panther of the Game: Qadree Ollison

While you could make a solid case for a few guys, including safety Bricen Garner, I ultimately selected running back Qadree Ollison as the Panther of the game.

Overall, Ollison didn't have a monster game, but I'm not sure that anyone did, to be honest. Ollison led the running backs with 91 yards on 22 carries, averaging just over four yards per attempt. He also tallied two of Pitt's four touchdowns but what pushed him over the top for me was his team-high five catches for 35 yards. To lead the team in both rushing and receiving was a little too much to ignore.

I strongly considered Garner. He had four tackles, a pass breakup, and, most importantly, the game-clinching interception at the end. But Ollison just did a little more and was the biggest reason Pitt got out to an early lead.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

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