Note: This preview story appears in the Tuesday, Sept. 3 newspaper on Page A6.
Anyone expecting juicy bulletin-board material for Ohio’s game at Pitt on Saturday was left wanting following Monday press conferences from Frank Solich and Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi.
Instead of trading potential verbal jabs, the two head coaches traded bouquets.
Ohio (1-0) travels to Pittsburgh for an 11 a.m. kickoff on Saturday at Heinz Field against the Panthers (0-1). The game will be aired on the ACC Network.
Monday’s dueling press conferences started with Narduzzi, the Panthers’ fifth-year head coach. Even now, going on two decades after the incident, Narduzzi said Solich got a raw deal from Nebraska.
“Frank Solich is a legend,” Narduzzi said. “The guy has had a great football team — even when he got let go at Nebraska…the guy never should have got let go there.
“Probably one of the biggest mistakes in Nebraska history is letting Frank Solich go. I’m still (mad) about it.”
About an hour later, during his own press conference in Athens, Solich was told what his counterpart this week said about him.
“Any kind of comment from Pat like that is extremely meaningful. I certainly appreciate his comment there,” Solich said. “We feel the same about him and what he’s accomplished.”
Ohio and Pitt have met just six times — or eight if you count a pair of meetings between OU and Western University of Pennsylvania — but the two programs are familiar with one another.
Narduzzi, during his stint as defensive coordinator Michigan State, was a valuable resource for Ohio as the Bobcats switched from primarily a Cover-2 scheme to a Cover-4 defensive philosophy after the 2013 season.
Then defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow and some of his staff made the switch after watching Narduzzi’s defense help the Spartans beat Stanford in the 2014 Rose Bowl. There were clinics and visits and talks, and the Bobcats dove in head first with the new defense in the 2014 season and have stuck with it since.
“Our whole defensive staff has spent time around Pat and he’s what we built our defense around with his philosophy and his approach. He’s a great coach,” Solich said.
“It’s what we’ve built our defense around,” Solich said.
“Did I help him too much? Probably,” Narduzzi said. “Jim Burrow is a good friend who was a defensive coordinator, so we’ve always talked.
“We’ve had our fair share of stuff we got, so Jim is a good football coach. So is Frank Solich.”
There’s more. Pitt’s new offensive coordinator is Mark Whipple. Whipple, in both 2017 and ’18, headed up UMass and dropped two high-scoring games against the Bobcats. Whipple’s Minutemen lost both games, but scored 42 points on Ohio last year and 50 in 2017.
“We’ve gone up against Coach Whipple a couple of times and they scored a ton of points. We were able to win both games, but they put points on the board, so that’s a little concerning,” Solich said.
“The fact that we have some awareness of both those guys and what they’re all about, I don’t know it will necessarily help us, I think it will still come down to execution on the field and making adjustments as the game goes on.”
Pitt leads the all-time series 7-1, but the Bobcats won the last meeting — the iconic home opener for Solich inside Peden Stadium.
In Solich’s first home game, Ohio upset the Panthers 16-10 in overtime after cornerback Dion Byrum returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns. The second came in overtime and gave the Bobcats a walk-on win as fans flooded the field.
Solich, a native of western Pennsylvania, will not be bringing that game up this week however. It’s ancient history, at least for this week.
“I put that game out of my mind. That’s going to have zero to do with this ballgame so I’m not dwelling on that one bit,” Solich said. “These guys weren’t even around when that happened.
“It was a great moment for us at Ohio, but that moment’s gone.”
A shot at the big guys
The game will be Ohio’s 23rd meeting against a power conference team — Big Ten, Pac 12, Big XII, SEC, ACC and formerly Big East — in 15 years under Solich.
Ohio’s record in such games is 5-17, and the Bobcats are 2-2 in their last four matchups against such conferences.
OU is 4-25 all-time against teams currently in the ACC, including last year’s neutral site matchup with Virginia — a 45-31 loss. UVA, meanwhile, knocked off Pitt 30-14 last weekend.
The Panthers are 31-4 all-time against the MAC, and 26-2 in home games. Narduzzi is 10 against MAC teams with Pitt thanks to a 24-7 win over Akron in 2015.
Dorsa lands honor
Redshirt junior middle linebacker Jared Dorsa was named the MAC East Division Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.
Dorsa picked up the conference weekly honor for the first time in his career after getting seven total tackles, a half-sack and a quarterback hurry in the Bobcats’ 41-20 season-opening win over Rhode Island on Saturday.