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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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First-year guard Aaryn Battle (1) dribbles the ball during Thursday evening’s game against Wake Forest in the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt women’s basketball falls back into their old habits, fall to Wake Forest 65-50
By Sara Meyer, Staff Writer • 9:10 am

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First-year guard Aaryn Battle (1) dribbles the ball during Thursday evening’s game against Wake Forest in the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt women’s basketball falls back into their old habits, fall to Wake Forest 65-50
By Sara Meyer, Staff Writer • 9:10 am

Takeaways | What went wrong for Pitt football in 2024?

A+play+during+the+game+against+Boston+College+in+Acrisure+Stadium+on+Thursday%2C+Nov.+16.
Bronco York | Staff Photographer
A play during the game against Boston College in Acrisure Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 16.

Coming into the 2023 season, most fans had realistic expectations for Pitt football. After losing several stars to the NFL on both sides of the ball, there was an understanding that the Panthers were looking at a rebuilding season in 2023. 

But now, nearly three months later, it is safe to say that Pitt football has wildly disappointed fans. The Panthers just wrapped up their regular season with an abysmal 30-19 loss to Duke, which puts their final record at 3-9. 

One question now lingers on the minds of Pitt fans everywhere — what went wrong? At least on paper, Pitt had a solid roster coming into the season. It had a veteran transfer quarterback in redshirt senior Phil Jurkovec. Pitt also had a few rising stars, like junior running back Rodney Hammond and junior tight end Gavin Bartholomew, who looked capable of making a huge leap this season. 

Still, the Panthers struggled the entire season. Following a 45-7 rout of Wofford in the first game of the year, the Panthers lost four straight. Things only got worse later in the year, as the team went 2-5 to finish off the season.

The most glaring issue in this year’s Pitt team was the offense. There weren’t many bright spots on the Panthers’ offense this season. From a weak offensive line to inconsistent receivers, the Panthers finished the season ranked No. 114 in the nation in yards per game.

In many games, the offense struggled so much that it actually hurt the team more than it helped. Against Notre Dame, Pitt turned the ball over five times, allowing the Fighting Irish to score two defensive touchdowns. Keep in mind that Pitt only scored one total touchdown in the entire game.

But what exactly caused the offense to struggle this much? Ultimately, it all came down to two factors — poor coaching and mediocre quarterback play. Former Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. just could not get the job done throughout his two-year stint with the Panthers. From pushing an overly complex playbook to failing to pull redshirt senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec earlier in the season, Cignetti’s poor performance this season ultimately cost him his job.

Cignetti didn’t get much help from Pitt’s three starting quarterbacks, though. Jurkovec and redshirt sophomores Christain Veilleux and Nate Yarnell struggled this season. Jurkovec came into the season as the starter, but it quickly became apparent that the redshirt senior was more of a liability than an asset. Veilleux took over the starting job and, while he showed glimpses of potential, was too inaccurate and inconsistent to get the job done. Yarnell finally got the job in the last two games of the season and arguably showed the most potential, but he still struggled in the second half of Pitt’s last game against Duke. 

While Pitt’s offense was downright bad, its defense performed slightly better. The Panthers’ defensive unit played with a lot of heart in many games this season. Against Louisville, the defense shined, forcing three turnovers to help take down the No. 15 Cardinals.

But Pitt’s defense also had some bad moments as well. Between allowing 20 first-half points against Cincinnati to getting scorched by Sam Hartman and Notre Dame, Pitt’s defense faced a major drop off in performance in 2023. 

All in all, Pitt didn’t do much right in 2023. The season was a complete failure on both sides of the ball. But the season is over and the Panthers need to keep moving forward if they want to rebound in 2024. 

The first thing Pitt needs to do to fare better next season is find a new offensive coordinator. The departure of Cignetti has left a key vacancy in the coaching staff that Pitt must fill with a quality candidate if they hope to find future success. Luckily for Panther fans, there are several great candidates that appear interested in the job. 

Arguably, the most valuable candidate for the job right now is Akron head coach Joe Moorhead. The Pittsburgh native previously served as offensive coordinator at Penn State, where he helped lead the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten Championship. Moorhead has the experience and the expertise to get Pitt’s offense back on track in 2024.

Other great candidates include UNLV offensive coordinator and former Pitt wide receivers coach Brennan Marion and James Madison offensive coordinator and former Pitt tight end Mike Shanahan. 

Another key area that Pitt needs to work on in the offseason is the transfer portal. The Panthers don’t just need to go after players in the portal, but they also need to prevent their own players from entering it. Pitt has already lost a key defensive presence in Brandon George to the portal, so keeping players out of the transfer portal is key for the Panthers.

Finally, the Panthers need to find a permanent solution for their quarterback struggles in the offseason. Both Veilleux and Yarnell are slated to return in 2024, and both have two more years of eligibility remaining. Pitt could opt to start one of those two or look to the transfer portal to find another veteran signal-caller to fill the job. 

This season was a complete disaster for Pitt, but the Panthers can recover. By making the right moves this off-season, the Panthers can and should rebuild to compete in the near future. 

 

About the Contributor
Brian Sherry, Sports Editor