A lot went right for Pitt in the team’s 23-20 win over Louisville on Saturday. But one thing that didn’t ended costing the Panthers three points — a critical fake punt conversion by the Cardinals.
If you missed the play, Louisville was seemingly forced into a punt at 4th and 2. The Cardinals then took a five-yard delay of game penalty, which didn’t seem to make much sense.
Now, you do see that penalty on punts somewhat often. But usually when they are taken, it is because the punting team wants to give itself a bit more room to punt the ball a good distance and try to pin the opponent back instead of booting the ball into the end zone and giving them better field position.
But that wasn’t the case here as Louisville was pinned back in its own territory. And they weren’t in a position where they were rushed and simply did not get the punt off. They very deliberately took the penalty before rambling off a long run for a first down. They then went on to get a field goal and cut the lead to 23-20.
So what gives?
That’s what most people watching the game were wondering. The most reasonable thought was that Louisville was trying to draw Pitt offsides to try to get a cheap first down. But in such a close game where every yard seemed to matter, why give your opponent five yards so willingly, assuming that doesn’t work?
Well, we saw why a short while later
Despite making the play harder, Louisville actually ran a fake punt on 4th and 7 and converted. At 4th and 2, Narduzzi suspected a fake and kept his defense on the field. But once the play changed to 4th and 7, he figured any chance of a fake was off and put his punt return team on the field. That allowed Louisville to run the fake. And after the game, Narduzzi blamed himself for not being ready.
“I think we gave up three points in the second half, and I really blame myself,” Narduzzi said. “That field goal was all on me. We were in a punt safe to begin with, they took a delay of game for whatever reason, and I said to myself, I went and put a punt return out there and I shouldn’t have done it. I was like — I said, they’re not going to delay a game and then fake it, are they, for more yards? And I played right into their hands. That’s what they wanted to do; they wanted to get our rangers out there. So that three-point is on me, it’s not on the defense. I’ll take that. That’s a dumb move, and shoot, if I wanted to waste another time-out I would have, but I didn’t want to waste another time-out. I thought we’d stop them.”
Louisville ran a fake and picked up a lot of yards to keep the drive going. The eventually got a field goal out of the drive but, the good news for Pitt was that it ultimately didn’t matter.
Look, people will want to kill Narduzzi and the coaches here for not being ready. But that’s because we’re just in this sort of hypercritical deal as fans where we expect teams, and especially coaches, to be perfect. If we’re being fair here, let’s be honest — no coach in their right mind would still be expecting a fake there. The announcers were shocked by it and so was practically everyone watching. No one, frankly, saw that as a possibility.
Seriously, how many teams will have a 4th and 2, intentionally take a penalty, and then still run a fake in a close game like that? It was just a brilliant move by Louisville and I’m not just saying that because Pitt won. I said it in the game stream when the game was still in doubt. You just take your hat off to Louisville there for such a great play more than you blame Narduzzi. At least in my opinion.
Sometimes plays like this happen and no coach is going to be 100% prepared all the time. I’m glad Narduzzi took the blame there but, if I’m being honest, I’m not up in arms for him not anticipating a fake there. It was just something that didn’t seem to make sense.
Kudos for Louisville, though, for a really gutsy call — and one that worked.