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October 18, 2011Andrew Taglianetti told head coach Todd Graham before the season he wanted to block as many punts as he could and maybe even break the record.
Saturday against Utah, the redshirt junior safety got one step closer to making that happen.
Taglianetti blocked his first punt of the year, giving Pitt a lone bright spot in an otherwise abysmal offensive performance in Saturday's loss to Utah.
"The coaches are doing a great job scheming it up for me and giving me an opportunity to succeed," Taglianetti said, "and I'm just going out there trying to give 110 percent, luckily enough it went my way today."
Taglianetti now has six career punt blocks after blocking two in 2008 and three in 2010. He's just four short of the NCAA record held by Central Michigan's James King, who blocked 10 punts from 2001-04.
It happened on a fourth-and-18 from Utah's own 22. Taglianetti stormed up the middle of the formation, seemingly untouched, to block the punt of Utah's Nick Marsh.
Taglianetti said Pitt brought four guys and Utah only kept three in to block. The redshirt junior came free and easily got his hands in front of the ball.
"On my second step, I knew I was going to get it," he said. "I saw it open up, and I didn't even have to lay out for it. The guys out there did a great job throwing the blocks and opening it up for me."
The ball bounced off the ground and straight into the hands of Antwuan Reed, who returned it 10 yards for the score. It gave the Panthers a commanding 14-3 lead. It was Pitt's first blocked punt return for a touchdown since 1991 when Billy Davis took one back 13 yards against Minnesota.
Taglianetti has always been an exceptional special teams player. He played on every special teams unit at Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic and has kept that intensity during his time at Pitt.
He's maintained the same aggression even when it turned into a penalty earlier this year. Against Notre Dame, Pitt seemed to force a three-and-out, but Taglianetti was flagged for a roughing the kicker penalty after diving for a block.
Taglianetti said it hasn't changed how he's going after punts, and he'll continue to go all out to add to his punt block total.
"If I had a half step more against Notre Dame, I would have had it blocked," he said. "I was just trying to lay out for it. I knew I was kind of far back.
"Coach Graham right after that said 'Don't even worry about it. Keep playing aggressive.' That's what I'm going to do."
Taglianetti also had a strong day on defense. After starting Bandit safety Jason Hendricks went out with an injury, Taglianetti entered the game for Pitt and finished with seven tackles.
He was part of a solid defensive performance that was overshadowed by a terrible offensive performance. Despite an embarrassing effort on the other side of the ball, Taglianetti said the team is all in this together.
"There's no finger pointing. We're a team effort," Taglianetti said. "We could sit there and blame the offense or whatever you want to do, but we're sticking behind those guys. We know what they can do and know what they're capable of so we're not going to be frustrated about it."
It would seem like this is a time where leadership is vital to turning the 3-2 Panthers around. Taglianetti serves as the special teams captain, and he's one of the guys that could be the leader Pitt needs.
"If they need me to, that's what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm going to keep working hard and keep trying to make plays out there, hopefully that will get our team in the victory column."
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