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Reviewing Pat Narduzzi’s fake punt decision in Notre Dame game

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NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt dropped a close game to No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday, losing 19-14. One of the key plays from that game was a late 4th down play where Pitt tried a fake punt.

Adding some context, Pitt trailed at that point 19-14 with about three and a half minutes left in the game. The Panthers were on their own 45-yard line and had a pair of timeouts left so punting the ball away there could have been seen as a possibility, I suppose. But needing only four yards for a first down, keeping the offense on the field made more sense to me.

Now, the fake punt had a bit of a twist as Pitt brought in backup quarterback Jeff George, Jr. in to attempt a throw. Most, including myself, figured it was punter Kirk Christodoulou in there attempting the fake. But instead, Pitt disguised it by throwing George into the game. George didn’t find any receivers and one incompletion later, the Irish had the ball again.

Casual Pitt fans probably don’t even realize the Panthers had George. But he transferred here in the fall and, yes, he is the kid of former NFL quarterback Jeff George.

Narduzzi, as you can imagine, was asked about it after the game.

When asked about the objective, Narduzzi plainly answered “To get a first down.” He didn’t go into too much detail but then went on to confirm he saw something with what the Irish were doing that would allow the play to work.

What did I think of the call? Not a great one. I can appreciate the wrinkle of having a quarterback make the throw and think that was a decent decision. But I’d much rather have kept the offense on the field to see if they could pick up the first down.

All of that said, let’s not pretend as if that decision single-handedly cost Pitt the game. Bad play call? Yes. But the Panthers also blew two field goals and, after stopping the Irish, even got the ball back.

Pitt’s offense had the ball back with 2:20 left in the game and even with good field position, starting at their own 38-yard line. The Panthers didn’t move the ball and that was it, folks.

I think the decision to go for the fake there was a bad one. Not defending that at all. But I’m also not sure it cost the Panthers much of anything. Don’t forget - Pitt was only on their own 45-yard line when they attempted the fake. That was only slightly better than when they got the ball back again a short time later. Plus, with the way the offense struggled today, Pitt picking up a first down there was hardly academic. And while the Panthers could have gotten a first down and still had their timeouts, really, after seeing the offense today, I don’t know who could be convinced that they were going 50 more yards for a touchdown, anyway.

Dumb call but I’m not sure it was a game-changer by any means.

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