Pat Narduzzi has Pitt defense ahead of schedule

Last season Pitt had 19 sacks for the season. This season, under new coach Pat Narduzzi, the Panthers already have 17 through four games. Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

Shortly after Pitt linebacker Matt Galambos fell asleep Friday night, the fire alarm went off at the Panthers' hotel in Roanoke, Virginia. Just before midnight, Galambos and his teammates trotted outside as firefighters tended to what the hotel deemed a non-emergency. They went back to their room, fell asleep and awoke the next morning for a noon game at Lane Stadium, where it was 47 degrees and rainy thanks to Hurricane Joaquin.

Pitt proceeded to hold Virginia Tech to 100 total yards in winning first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi's ACC debut.

"One of our biggest phrases from our head strength coach, Coach (Dave) Andrews, is, 'It doesn't matter,' " Galambos told ESPN.com. "It doesn't matter that it was a hurricane, it doesn't matter if there were fire alarms in the middle of the night. It can be rain, sun, snow -- we're ready to play. Anytime, any place. And he instilled that during the summer, during the workouts, and it just overlapped to the season.

"So really it doesn't matter. The type of environment, the type of weather. I think all the guys -- offense, defense, special teams, they'll be ready to play."

Narduzzi's arrival last winter signaled an eventual turnaround for Pitt's defense. But through four games with the Panthers, the former Michigan State defensive coordinator's fingerprints are already visible. Pitt enters Saturday's home tilt with Virginia ranking fourth nationally in total defense (243.8 yards per game), fourth in rushing defense (71.25 ypg) and fourth in sack efficiency (12.2 percent). It ranked 33rd, 54th and 95th last year in each of those respective categories.

That sack number has been the most impressive, as Pitt tallied just 19 sacks all of last season. This year, the Panthers have 17. They made 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage against Virginia Tech, holding the Hokies to 9 total rushing yards.

The performance in Blacksburg was so impressive that Narduzzi stated afterward that the defense was what he wanted it to look like upon his hiring, although he was quick to rein in the praise and keep his team grounded when speaking during his Monday press conference.

"We have to keep working and push our guys to get better," Narduzzi said. "We're not going to feel good and go out in shorts and practice like the Steelers are today. We aren't the Steelers."

Galambos, like the rest of his comrades, was excited in December to learn that Pitt would be bringing in a head coach with as much success on the defensive side of the ball as Narduzzi had. He attributed the unit's rapid rise to some of the finer points of Narduzzi's early teachings, like footwork.

"If you have three guys, the linebackers, all stepping the wrong way, that can really hurt a defense," Galambos said. "So one of the major things is definitely footwork, and if you can get started going the right direction, and you can beat your blocks, that's just such a huge advantage."

Galambos led Pitt with 10 tackles Saturday, but he was unable to defend the defense's highest individual honor. That would be "the bone," and it now belongs to fellow linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, who was voted on by teammates to have had the game's biggest hit at Virginia Tech. (Galambos earned the bone the game prior for a tackle he made at Iowa.)

The winning tackler gets to sign the bone and carry it around for the week -- the closest thing to bragging rights for a group that believes its best is yet to come.

"We really just take it one play at a time, one drive at a time," Galambos said. "If you really have that focus that we talk about every day -- we talk about just laser focus, just focus on each play -- we know how good we can be. And it's crazy because we're really scratching the surface. It doesn't matter how high ranked we are now; it's all about the end of the season, so that's really good."