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Poll: Who Will Serve as Impact Players for Pitt vs. Cincinnati?



Pitt football quarterback Phil Jurkovec

Pitt football restarts its series with Cincinnati this Saturday, known as the River City Rivalry, featuring two programs that have a rich history and great games to go with it.

The River City Rivalry has occurred 12 times since its start in 1921, but the teams played most of their games from 2005-12, when they were in the Big East conference. The Panthers won the first seven matchups, including the first three Big East games, but the Bearcats won four of the final five games the two have played.

Pitt fans know of some of the more painful losses to Cincinnati, including 2009, when Pitt lead by 21 points, before losing in the final minute to miss out on the Big East Title.

The Panthers will need particular players to step up their performance, if they are to earn bragging rights over the Bearcats, this Saturday, Sept. 9, 6:30 p.m. at Acrisure Stadium, with a national audience watching on the CW Network. 

Redshirt senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec is one player Pitt fans will look to as someone who has the ability to change the game in their favor. Jurkovec, a Pine-Richland alum, transferred from Boston College to join up with former offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. for his final collegiate season in 2023.

He completed 17 of 23 passes, 73.9%, for 214 yards and a touchdown, while also running seven times for 53 yards, including a 23-yard rushing touchdown in the 45-7 win over FCS opponent, the Wofford Terriers, in the home opener. Jurkovec’s mobility is a big change for the Panthers offense from previous starting quarterback Kedon Slovis last season and might serve as a big reason why they come away with the win.

While quarterback play is always important, Pitt does possess a good running attack that might function as the difference in the game. Redshirt senior Daniel Carter had a career day against Wofford, rushing 11 times for 65 yards and a touchdown to lead Pitt on the ground. Junior Rodney Hammond Jr., also a starter, only had five carries for 25 yards, but he should see a lot of action on Saturday, as the most experienced back on the team.

A great passing attack is nothing without good wide receiver play. Junior Konata Mumpfield, redshirt senior Bub Means and redshirt sophomore Daejon Reynolds are the starting wide outs and will all play an important role against the Bearcats. Junior tight end Gavin Bartholomew will also look to display his talents in the rivalry matchup, using his size and strength to outmatch his opponents.

The offensive line only allowed one sack last week and features great veterans in redshirt seniors Jake Kradel, Blake Zubovic, Matt Goncalves, Jason Collier Jr. and redshirt junior Branson Taylor. Their play might serve as the most important for Pitt, allowing space and time for the passing and rushing attacks to occur.

Who Will Serve as the Impact Player for the Pitt Offense vs. Cincinnati?

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The Panthers defense will also need to step up against the Bearcats if they are to earn the victory.

Bearcats quarterback Emory Jones completed 19 of his 23 passes for 345 yards and five touchdowns, while also rushing nine times for 36 yards and two touchdowns in their 66-13 win over FCS opponent, Eastern Kentucky, in their home opener in Week 1.

Stopping him is the number one priority for this Pitt defense, with all units ready to deal with the dual-threat signal-caller.

The Panthers produced four sacks against the Terriers and held them to -1 rushing yards. Senior defensive lineman Dayon Hayes had four tackles and a sack, while redshirt senior defensive lineman Deandre Jules provided two tackles and a sack as well. Linebackers in senior Bangally Kamara made four tackles, one sack and broke up a pass ,while redshirt junior Solomon DeShields made two tackles and one for loss.

How the Pitt secondary plays against Jones will determine if they can win this game after. Cornerbacks in redshirt seniors Marquis Williams, M.J. Devonshire and A.J. Woods, along with safeties in redshirt sophomore Javon McIntyre and junior Phillip O’Brien Jr. have all shown up in big games before and have the opportunity to create new memories with great performances against Cincinnati.

Who Will Serve as the Impact Player for the Pitt Defense vs. Cincinnati

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Special teams will also play an important role against Cincinnati. Redshirt junior place kicker Ben Sauls will need to show off his strong leg on field goals and kickoffs, while redshirt sophomore Caleb Junko will have to be precise with his punts.

Woods is now the starter at kickoff returner, replacing Means. Placing on the Reese’s Senior Watch List in the preseason, Woods has the chance to make a name for himself as a returner in his final year at Pitt. Devonshire will once again receive punts and Pitt fans will want to see him take one all the way back, like he did against Rhode Island last season.

Who Will Serve as the Impact Player for Pitt Special Teams vs. Cincinnati

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Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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