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The Pitt News

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Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • 8:37 am

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Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • 8:37 am

Preview | Pitt football prepares for Backyard Brawl against West Virginia

Players+pile+on+each+other+during+the+Backyard+Brawl+on+Thursday+September+1st%2C+2022.
Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer
Players pile on each other during the Backyard Brawl on Thursday September 1st, 2022.

Pitt football’s 27-21 loss to Cincinnati last Saturday disappointed many Panthers fans, leaving many wondering how the program should proceed. From calls to replace redshirt senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec to head coach Pat Narduzzi having to respond to questions about booing during the loss, it’s evident that fans are upset about Pitt’s rough game against the Bearcats. 

But Pitt has an opportunity to silence the noise with a win in the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia on Saturday. The Panthers defeated the Mountaineers 38-31 last year at Acrisure Stadium thanks to a game-saving pick-six from then-junior cornerback M.J. Devonshire. But the Panthers must travel to Morgantown for this year’s game, creating a serious hurdle for the team if they want to build on last year’s win. 

Here are the biggest storylines heading into the 106th edition of the Backyard Brawl.

Drama in Pitt’s quarterback room

Jurkovec struggled mightily last week against Cincinnati. The redshirt senior quarterback completed just 31% of his passes and was sacked five times, causing some Panthers fans to boo Jurkovec during the game. Still, when asked if he considered changing quarterbacks during the loss, Narduzzi responded with a simple “no.”

With redshirt junior Christian Veilleux and Nate Yarnell on the roster, Pitt has options if it wants to move on from Jurkovec. Although, considering Narduzzi’s brief answer after the Cincinnati game, it does not look likely that the redshirt senior is going anywhere anytime soon. 

How will Pitt get past West Virginia’s strong offensive line?

The Mountaineers’ biggest strength is undoubtedly their offensive line. Returning four of five starters from last season, the Mountaineers have a strong force protecting their junior quarterback Garrett Greene. In West Virginia’s 38-15 loss to Penn State, the offensive line held up relatively well, giving up just three sacks and assisting the Mountaineer run game.

Junior center Zach Frazier leads the West Virginia offensive line. Standing at 6 foot 3 and 308 pounds, Frazier is quick for his size and could even make an impact in the NFL in the near future. 

Considering Pitt’s defense only earned two sacks and gave up 229 rushing yards against Cincinnati, some players must step up to overcome a much more powerful offensive line in West Virginia. 

How will Pitt stop West Virginia sophomore running back CJ Donaldson Jr?

In last year’s Backyard Brawl, Donaldson ran all over the Panthers, rushing for 125 yards and one touchdown. Donaldson’s performance was one of the biggest factors in the Mountaineers’ ability to keep the game close.

But this year, against an arguably weaker Pitt defensive line, Donaldson could help the Mountaineers ultimately overtake the Panthers. Donaldson is a large, physical running back, standing 6 foot 1 and 238 pounds.

Considering Pitt’s disastrous run defense last week, Donaldson is a player to watch out for as he seeks to have another big game in the Backyard Brawl.

Pitt’s offensive line needs to step up.

Last week, Pitt gave up five sacks, which contributed greatly to Jurkovec’s poor performance. This can not happen again if the Panthers hope to leave Morgantown with a win. 

Expect Panthers redshirt senior offensive lineman Matt Goncalves to step up against the Mountaineers. After the loss to Cincinnati, Goncalves took responsibility for his unit’s poor performance and vowed to do better. 

“We got to prepare for it like we prepared for [Cincinnati], but even better,” Goncalves said. “We gotta come in, watch more film. We, on the practice field, got to do a lot better and work harder.” 

How will the environment affect the game?

Mountaineer Field — which will host the Brawl this year — has a capacity of 60,000. Expect Mountaineer fans to occupy as many of those 60,000 seats as possible. While 60,000 attendees are less than last year’s Backyard Brawl attendance of 70,000, the smaller, more intimate environment at Mountaineer Field could make for a louder game than last year. 

The energy on Saturday could actually play a major role in determining the outcome.

Prediction: West Virginia gets its revenge, beating Pitt 28-21

With a strong offensive line and running back, West Virginia enters the game with the ability to exploit one of the Panthers’ weak spots. Pitt gave up 229 rushing yards last week, ultimately costing them the game. Expect a similar result this week.

This matchup is not favorable to Pitt in any way. The Panthers will have to travel to Morgantown and face off against a running back who has burned them in the past. I expect the Panthers to limp back to Pittsburgh with a long road ahead of them. 

About the Contributor
Brian Sherry, Sports Editor