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Browne out? Pitt weighing change at quarterback

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

By WILL GRAVES

AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) Three weeks into the season, Pitt remains a mystery. At least to its head coach.

Pat Narduzzi isn't sure who his quarterback is or how the Panthers as a whole will react after getting drilled 59-21 by Oklahoma State last weekend.

"It's hard to tell where they are," Narduzzi said Monday. "We'll find out Saturday (against Georgia Tech) where they are. It's hard to read sometimes."

The quarterback situation included. There is "or" between Max Browne and Ben DiNucci's names on this week's depth chart and Narduzzi is in no rush to make a decision as Pitt (1-2) opens Atlantic Coast Conference play on the road against the Yellow Jackets (1-1).

Browne was pulled in the first half against Oklahoma State, completing 7 of 10 passes for 60 yards and failing to guide a touchdown drive for the second straight game. DiNucci passed for 228 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions after coming on in relief. DiNucci's mobility gives opponents a dimension Browne doesn't offer. Yet DiNucci can also be sloppy with the ball. He fumbled late in a loss to Penn State before a pair of picks against the Cowboys with Pitt in full-on desperation mode.

"We're going to continue to evaluate," Narduzzi said. "Both do some good things on tape. Ben sparked with his feet and running the ball. Max does the same thing in the passing game."

Given the current status of Pitt's defense, whoever is under center on the other side of the ball might not matter. The Panthers appeared ready to take a step forward after keeping the Nittany Lions relatively in check. It all fell apart against the Cowboys, who scored touchdowns on each of their seven first-half possessions before pulling Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Mason Rudolph one series into the third quarter.

Though Narduzzi stressed any finger pointing should be done in the direction of the coaching staff, he also took his players to task after the worst home loss since the program moved to Heinz Field in 2001.

"You can't miss tackles, got to read your keys," Narduzzi said. "Even guys (that) aren't so young didn't read their keys. We tell our coaches, what you see is what you coach. How do we get it to sink in, do we need a sledgehammer?"

Pitt will get safety Jordan Whitehead back after he completed his three-game suspension for a violation of team rules. He comes during a week in which the Panthers have to adjust from Oklahoma State's pass-happy hyperdrive offense to Georgia Tech's triple option. The Panthers have been working on the Yellow Jackets' unique attack weekly since training camp began. That doesn't mean it'll be any easier to adjust.

Getting into conference play offers Pitt a chance at a fresh start. The preseason goal of being a factor in the wide-open Coastal Division is still there.

"Anything that happened the first three weeks doesn't matter," Narduzzi said.

Including the good and the bad at quarterback.

Narduzzi awarded the starting gig to Browne - a graduate transfer from Southern California - due to his superior play throughout spring drills and fall camp. Browne was the starter at USC last fall before losing his job after three games. It may be happening again a year later on the other side of the country.

Maybe.

Though the Panthers have been more productive offensively with DiNucci running the show, Narduzzi needs DiNucci to be a more careful decision maker.

"Some guys can make plays with feet but if you turn the ball over it's going to hurt the team big time," Narduzzi said. "If you're minus in turnover ratio, it doesn't help anybody."

Neither does letting teams go up and down the field. Something Pitt needs to get a handle on quickly regardless of who's at quarterback.

"I mean, you've got to stop the run," Narduzzi said. "Mindsets are great. Execution, fundamentals, reading your keys, doing the right thing versus the option is critical. You've got to do it. You've got to do what you're coached to do."

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Updated September 18, 2017

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