No. 17 Pitt adopts underdog status against No. 24 Tennessee

PITTSBURGH — Pat Narduzzi is doing his best to block out the noise. Still, some of that filters down to the longtime Pittsburgh head coach.

So yeah, he’s aware the No. 17-ranked Panthers (1-0) are underdogs on Saturday when No. 24-ranked Tennessee (1-0) becomes the first school in the Southeastern Conference to visit Pittsburgh. Already.

Even though Pitt is coming off his first ACC title. Even though the Panthers beat the Volunteers in Knoxville last fall. Even though Pitt rallied with West Virginia in its season opener Sept. 1, while Tennessee beat Ball State, outplayed by Ball State, to drop the standings.

Narduzzi is okay with being an underdog. It’s a role he says he prefers, although the tone of his voice might indicate otherwise.

“You’ve heard about the SEC all summer, and there’s really only two Power Five conferences in the country, the SEC and the Big Ten,” Narduzzi said. “So we’re in the peewee league, and we’ll line up and see if we can play.”

The Panthers looked like they could play while finding a way past the Mountaineers, a performance Narduzzi called average. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it should – in theory – keep his players in check.

“I think dealing with success this week, when you’ve kind of (poorly) played… I think that makes it a little bit easier,” he said. ” And that ? If they can get excited about it, good for them (but) you haven’t seen me dancing in the locker room, okay, and there won’t be any dancing.

Tennessee started 2022 where it left off in 2021: racking up plenty of points with sixth-year quarterback Hendon Hooker, coach Josh Heupel’s high-paced offense. The Volunteers have now surpassed 45 points in four straight games – tying a record set in 1993 – and Hooker has thrown a touchdown pass in every game he has appeared in since replacing Joe Milton amid the League loss. last year against Pitt.

“Hendon is a whole different guy,” Tennessee quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle said. “His confidence, his fundamentals, his development since that moment, he’s a completely different quarterback.”

Although familiar to the Panthers. This will be Hooker’s fourth appearance against Pitt, including two he made at Virginia Tech.

Hooker was traded from the Hokies to the Volunteers in search of a fresh start. Pulling off a big non-conference road win for a program that has more losing seasons (seven) than wins (six) since 2008 would certainly be welcome.

“It’s a big game for us, obviously,” Heupel said. “(This is) the first road test for us against a very good football team.”

The Volunteers outscored the teams 207-51 in the first quarter under Heupel and have scored at least one first-quarter touchdown in the 14 games since he took over, but are just 8-6. Tennessee beat Ball State 17-0 to open this season. And they led Pittsburgh 10-0 last year at Neyland Stadium.

Pitt’s typically dominant running defense was hit in the mouth against West Virginia, giving up 190 yards rushing, well over double the 88 yards per game the Panthers allowed in 2021.

Narduzzi attributed the sloppy play to poor practice, alignment issues and a handful of Panthers getting their first overtime.

“I’ve spoken to a few (of) guys who were like, ‘Coaching, that’s very different from training.’ Yes it is, but you have to make it the same,” Narduzzi said.

Tennessee has four of five starters back on the offensive line. Cooper Mays is back to anchor the center line after starting 11 games last season, although he missed the loss to Pitt through injury. Left guard Jerome Carvin has started 31 games, while right guard Javontez Spraggins has 14 starts under his belt. Right tackle Darnell Wright has 30, including 23 straight starts. Carvin has allowed one sack in his final seasons here combined.

USC transfer Kedon Slovis overcame some early jitters to throw for 308 yards against the Mountaineers on his Pitt debut. Slovis soaked up five sacks, which Narduzzi attributed to a combination of Slovis holding the ball too long and receivers not executing the correct routes.

Slovis has been the most effective short shotgun, a formation Pitt has used in 18 of his last 20 snaps, including each on an even 92-yard drive in the fourth quarter.

AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville contributed to this report.

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