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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Backyard Brawl Takeaways | Panthers beat themselves, Donaldson dominates again

A+player+holds+a+football+during+the+Pitt+football+spring+game+at+Acrisure+Stadium.
Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor
A player holds a football during the Pitt football spring game at Acrisure Stadium.

“Let’s Go Pitt!” is a common phrase that Pitt fans chant when cheering on Pitt football. However, on Saturday in Morgantown, Mountaineer fans mocked the Panthers with their own three-word chant. And the Mountaineers (2-1, 0-0 Big 12) backed them up, beating the Panthers 17-6 in the 106th Backyard Brawl. The Panthers fall to 1-2 as they head into conference play.

Here are my takeaways from this year’s Backyard Brawl.

Blame doesn’t fall solely on Jurkovec

Pitt fans everywhere will blame redshirt senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec for the loss on Saturday. But to me, this is simply unfair.

For one, the Panthers’ offensive game plan set out to establish the run. The Panthers ran 12 straight rushing plays to start the game, and they drove all the way down to the Mountaineer three-yard line. It is not Jurkovec’s fault that head coach Pat Narduzzi then decided to kick a 20-yard field goal instead of going for it on 4th and goal.

Time and time again, the Panthers committed self-inflicted mistakes that cost them the game. Following the field goal, the Panthers had the opportunity to take a double-digit lead. A 4th and 1 QB sneak conversion by Jurkovec was called back due to a false start from redshirt senior running back Daniel Carter. Narduzzi didn’t take kindly to the costly play by the veteran running back.

“You talk about critical plays,” Narduzzi said. “He jumped offsides and gave up the ball, we had to punt it when we had a first down. Who knows what happens after that, little things like that can’t happen.”

This wasn’t the only costly penalty of the game. 

The Mountaineers found themselves in a 2nd and 19 near midfield. The Panthers had the perfect opportunity to stop the Mountaineers and get the ball back with a chance to take the lead. They did end up getting a stop, causing redshirt first-year backup quarterback Nicco Marchiol to throw an incomplete pass.

But there was a flag thrown on redshirt senior cornerback MJ Devonshire, which gave the Mountaineers 10 yards and an automatic first down. West Virginia went on to score on that drive before going on to win the game.

Don’t get me wrong, Jurkovec’s three interceptions sealed the deal on the Panthers’ fate. But blaming the entire game on one player is completely unfair. Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. failed at game planning around Jurkovec’s strengths.

Stupid penalties shot the Panthers in the foot. If Panther fans are telling Jurkovec to walk home from Morgantown, then there should be multiple Panthers walking with him.

Defense uncharacteristically inconsistent

Across the 20 combined wins for the Panthers from 2021-2022, one thing remained consistent. Despite the turnover on offense, Pitt’s defense — especially its defensive line — was stout. In 2022, the Panthers were ranked the No. 4 defensive line in the country behind Clemson, Alabama and Georgia. The Panthers’ defensive line housed consensus All-American Calijah Kancey.

This year, the Panthers are the opposite. In the last two games, the Panthers have surrendered 367 rushing yards to Cincinnati and West Virginia. The Panthers can’t win games with outings like this. 

The Panthers’ two sacks in Saturday night’s game came on blitzes from redshirt junior linebacker Solomon DeShields and redshirt senior linebacker Shayne Simon. Outside of this, there was almost no pressure on the Mountaineers’ backup quarterback.

Even the secondary played subpar. Marchiol threw just nine passes in the contest but completed six of them for 67 yards and a touchdown. Boundary cornerbacks Devonshire and redshirt senior Marquis Williams both surrendered big gains on defensive penalties. 

All in all, the Panthers defense is not the stout group of the past, and their win-loss record shows that. 

CJ Donaldson owns the Panthers

It’s official. Mountaineers’ sophomore running back CJ Donaldson dominates the Panthers in every opportunity he gets to do so. Last year, in his first season of collegiate football, the Miami native rushed seven times for 125 yards and a touchdown. 

Donaldson repeated this performance on Saturday, this time rushing for 102 yards and adding another touchdown. Narduzzi gave his flowers to the young running back after the game. 

“He’s a big running back,” Narduzzi said. “He’s physical, he’s a good tailback.”

The Panthers are in trouble for potentially two more seasons. Donaldson isn’t draft-eligible until next season, meaning the Panthers will see him at least once more. The Panthers need to gameplan around the running back in next year’s Backyard Brawl.

The Panthers return home next week against North Carolina on Saturday night against No. 21 North Carolina.

About the Contributor
Jermaine Sykes, Assistant Sports Editor
Jermaine Sykes is the Assistant Sports Editor for The Pitt News. He is a part of the College of Business and Administration class of 2024 and is double majoring in Marketing and Human Resources Management. He is also pursuing a Sports Management certificate and an Economics minor. He has written over 90 articles as a member of the sports staff.