PITTSBURGH – Pitt football had a rough October. It began with a loss to Georgia Tech at home five days after the Yellow Jackets’ head coach was fired and ended with back-to-back losses to Louisville and North Carolina.

Since their loss in Chapel Hill dropped their record to 4-4, the Panthers have rebounded, rattling off three straight wins.

Though Pitt’s stated goal of winning the ACC Coastal Division and competing for another conference title has fallen short, coach Pat Narduzzi says his team still had plenty to play for.

“We’re playing for a bowl game. You’re playing for your pride. I don’t think anybody wants to go out there and slop around,” Narduzzi said on Monday.

He believes his team’s response to an underwhelming October has shown a lot.

“It tells you a lot about our character,” Narduzzi said. “Any team I’m in charge of we’re going to continue to go, and it starts with the coaches working like they normally do and being ready to roll on game day.”

“(The players) have done a great job. Have you ever seen them quit? Have you ever seen them go kind of go, ‘Oh, no’?” Narduzzi added. “No, our guys just keep fighting, regardless of what’s going on.”

That was true yet again on Saturday when Pitt faced a Duke. Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis threw interceptions on the Panthers’ first two drives of the second half and the defense didn’t allow Duke to score after either turnover.

“The defense was put in four or five sudden change situations the other day and I think were successful two out of the four, or two out of the five. The two interceptions we threw, they got zero points from,” Narduzzi said.

The other sudden change situations occurred when Pitt again saw struggles from its punter, an issue that has been prevalent throughout the season, regardless of which of Pitt’s punters is in the game. The Blue Devils blocked a Caleb Junko punt in the first quarter that led to a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, as the Panthers clung to an 8-point lead, Junko fumbled the snap on a punt attempt, setting Duke up at the Pitt 22. The Blue Devils scored a touchdown, but the two-point conversion failed when linebacker SirVocea Dennis tackled wide receiver Jordan Moore on the play.

“We have a punt blocked, which again, is disappointing,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve talked to our punt team and all that, but, again, seven points off that. They get seven points off another punt issue.”

With the punt team struggling throughout the first 11 games of the season, Narduzzi is prepared to take a new tactic as his team prepares for its final regular season game in Miami this weekend.

“I told the offense, we’re going to go for it on fourth down a lot, so that’s what we should be ready for,” Narduzzi said.

When asked if he’d consider going for it on fourth-and-long, Narduzzi responded, “Might as well, right? Let’s go for it on fourth down. We have it right there, just, right there at least have a chance to get a first down.”

While the Panthers have fallen short of their own expectations, Miami has fallen short of just about everyone’s expectations. The Hurricanes were the favorites to win the ACC Coastal ahead of the season with Miami alum Mario Cristobal returning home to coach the Hurricanes after leading Oregon to a 35-13 record in four seasons with the Ducks.

Miami has fallen far short, with quarterback Tyler Van Dyke – who threw 25 touchdowns to six interceptions last year – dealing with injuries throughout the season. When Van Dyke has been healthy enough to play, he hasn’t looked as sharp as he did last season. He’s thrown 10 touchdowns to four interceptions in seven games this season.

The Hurricanes currently sit in fifth place in the ACC Coastal with a 3-4 conference record and an overall record of 5-6. In order to become bowl-eligible, Miami will have to defeat Pitt on Saturday.

Narduzzi says the Hurricanes are still playing like it matters, despite a 40-10 loss to Clemson over this past weekend.

“They’re playing – you watch them last week against a good Clemson football team as we know. They’re playing hard,” Narduzzi said.

“They’re playing hard and they’re athletic. They will be at home, it will be Senior Day for them, they will play excited, I guarantee you that.”

It’s unknown right now if Pitt will have three of its best players available for the regular season finale. Neither running back Israel Abanikanda nor defensive tackle Calijah Kancey finished the game against Duke, and defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado missed the game entirely. Narduzzi didn’t rule any of them out for the season, but says they’re still being evaluated.

“We’re still kind of playing it by ear,” Narduzzi said in regards to the injuries.

Pitt will wrap the regular season against Miami at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday with kickoff set for 8 p.m.

Amanda Filipcic-Godsey is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers Pittsburgh sports for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey.

Amanda Filipcic-Godsey is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers Pittsburgh sports for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey.

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