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With Penn State game looming, Narduzzi puts Pitt players on mute

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh wide receiver/return specialist Quadree Henderson learned a year ago that it's probably wise to turn off your Twitter notifications when the Panthers play Penn State.

"If I mention Penn State, my Twitter blows up for 25 hours and there's only 24 hours in a day," Henderson said with a laugh. "I think I'm going to go off social media this week."

Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi an NCAA football game against Youngstown State, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

While Henderson was still posting as Pitt (1-0) prepared for a trip to Happy Valley to take on the No. 6 Nittany Lions (1-0) on Saturday, head coach Pat Narduzzi did take one variable out of the equation when he made players and members of his coaching staff off limits to the media in the run-up to the Panthers' most anticipated game of the season.

"All the talk should be about the game and the match-ups, and I think you guys know what you're going to do there," Narduzzi said on Monday. "But it's a big game, it really is. And I want our guys locked in. It's an in-state rivalry, at least for us, and we're going to prepare for it that way."

Narduzzi instituted a similar blackout before the series renewed last September after a 15-year hiatus and the Panthers responded with a 42-39 victory . The third-year head coach admitted he's a superstitious type but added the reason for the ban isn't due to concerns his players may say something that would end up on a bulletin board somewhere.

"If there's a guy that I would worry about something they'd say, I wouldn't let you have them anyway, so we could control that and I could just give you all the guys that I wouldn't worry about, but no, it has nothing to do with that, either," Narduzzi said.

Eliminating distractions: Narduzzi's preference would be to eliminate as many distractions as possible. He's hardly alone. Washington has prohibited players from being interviewed each of the last two falls during the week leading into its annual Apple Cup showdown against Washington State. The Huskies won easily both times.

Though Narduzzi stressed a year ago that every matchup is equally important, he understands that is no longer the case. There is Pitt and Penn State and there are the other 11 games on the Panthers' schedule. The Nittany Lions bring a level of attention that Youngstown State, who took Pitt to overtime before falling 28-21, simply does not. With a roster littered with underclassmen who will play significantly more important roles than they did a year ago, Narduzzi is being careful to create a protective bubble of sorts.

"I can't go in the dorm rooms at night and see what they're doing," Narduzzi said. "They don't let me stay with them during the year, so you're not around them all day. So we try to ground them as far as go to school and then study when you leave here. That's what our guys do. But hopefully they understand how important it is."

Inside the team room, there is plenty to talk about. Pitt's defense struggled to keep Youngstown State in check in the second half as the Penguins rallied from a 21-point deficit. The offense kept things decidedly vanilla, though Narduzzi allowed that had little to do with quarterback Max Browne getting sacked three times.

"I think maybe we got full in the first half, full of ourselves, thinking, 'hey, we're OK,' and that wasn't the case," Narduzzi said, who added complacency won't be an issue this week.

Still, Narduzzi downplayed the idea that there is some level of "hate" involved on either side, saying "all rivalries" are different. Maybe, but Browne — a graduate transfer who knew nothing about Pitt and Penn State while spending four years at USC — is well aware of how he's supposed to feel.

"I know you're supposed to hate them," Browne said with a laugh shortly after Pitt survived Youngstown State. "And now I guess I do hate them."