MORGANTOWN — The clock on the scoreboard at Milan Puskar Stadium is counting down, just under an hour and a half until kickoff, and the Backyard Brawl is about to renew.
Here are a couple of storylines to follow the Pitt-WVU kickoff approaches.
Stopping the WVU Rushing Attack
CJ Donaldson ran for 125 yards last season, and it was part of a 190-yard rushing effort from West Virginia — a performance that really pissed off Pat Narduzzi and the Pitt defense.
“We can’t let what happened Saturday happen again defensively,” Narduzzi said Monday. “We’ve got to come out — it doesn’t matter what they throw at you. We’ve got to react the right way. We’ve seen a lot of different stuff through camp, and we’ll show them a bunch of different stuff this week and try to prepare as well as we can without knowing exactly how they want to attack us with coach Brown making the calls.”
Pitt’s efforts stopping the run against Cincinnati last week weren’t exactly what Narduzzi wanted either, giving up 216 yards and a touchdown on 42 carries, but it was a performance that can be likened to last season’s West Virginia game.
It wasn’t the season opener, but it basically was. And it was an opportunity that allowed the Pitt coaching staff to see just how much needs to be fixed in pursuit of stopping opposing running backs. There have already been positive signs, too.
The run defense clamped down in the second half, allowing just 36 yards — a stark contrast to the 180 first half yards. The corrections have been ongoing all week.
Rodney Hammond Jr. Needs More Touches
It’s not exactly concerning that Rodney Hammond Jr. has only received 11 carries through two games as much as it is perplexing.
He’s being out carried by Daniel Carter and C’Bo Flemister at this point in the season, and yeah, Pitt fell behind against Cincinnati, which took away rushing opportunities, but that’s simply not a statistic that bodes well for the offense.
Well, Frank Cignetti Jr. said Wednesday that he “absolutely” wants to get Hammond more involved in the offense.
“I take a critical look at myself in terms of the game plan and play-calling,” Cignetti said after practice. “You know, after the fact, yeah, I’d like to get Rodney more touches. I’d like to get the entire running backs crew more touches.”
BJ Williams Not Included Upon Travel Roster
It’s been a whirlwind start to BJ Williams’ freshman campaign at Pitt, and it continues this week.
Williams — a 6-foot-3, 315-pound guard from Fairburn, Georgia — did not travel with Pitt to the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia tonight.
He made his collegiate debut two weekends against Wofford, taking 25 snaps at right guard in the fourth quarter, and he made his first career start against Cincinnati last week at right guard, and it wasn’t exactly a smooth transition. He played every snap, but he allowed a team-high five pressures and five hurries — giving up a sack.
Williams filled in for Jason Collier Jr. last week, and Collier is on the travel roster. Ryan Baer, who is still up in the air for playing guard this season, is also on the travel roster.
Ludwig: Pat Narduzzi Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
Pat Narduzzi didn’t even consider pulling Kedon Slovis last season, at any point, and he cannot make the same mistake this season that he did last season.
And, to be fair to Phil Jurkovec, he does need some help. The offensive line has been very disappointing, and Bub Means has to help out his quarterback if he considers himself Pitt’s No. 1 wideout. You just can’t go 0-for-11 in targets. But that doesn’t excuse Jurkovec’s play either. He looked lost at times against Cincinnati, and that’s extremely concerning considering Jurkovec is a sixth-year quarterback technically in his third season of Cignetti’s offense.
Jurkovec did make some nice plays in the fourth quarter, lofting a touchdown pass to Konata Mumpfield and firing a back shoulder bullet to Gavin Bartholomew, but he wasn’t able to execute in crunch time on either of Pitt’s potential go-ahead drives late in the fourth quarter — and, to be fair again (see, lots of issues here), some of that is on poor play-calling, too.
It’s been one game, really. One bad game. Jurkovec has plenty of time to bounce back, to settle into the offense behind an offensive line that should (key word here) mesh together and offer some sort of cohesion and just be the quarterback who can get the ball out quickly, give Mumpfield and Bartholomew a chance to make plays and hand the ball off — often — to Rodney Hammond Jr. That’s all Pitt needs here. A conductor.
No one is asking Jurkovec to be Kenny Pickett. Just… don’t be a repeat of last season. And, unfortunately for Jurkovec, there was a lot of PTSD against Cincinnati.
Excitement Abound as the Backyard Brawl Arrives
Donovan McMillon was still a Florida Gator when the Backyard Brawl resumed last season, but he remembers sitting in his dorm room in Gainesville, Florida filming M.J. Devonshire’s pick six as it happened.
McMillon may not have picked Pitt the first time around, but he came home when he left Florida over the offseason. He grew up in Pittsburgh’s South Hills, and he’s followed his hometown school from afar over the last couple of years. Now he’s going to be a part of the rivalry itself.
“It was crazy,” McMillon said after practice Tuesday. “I had a ‘one-year-ago-today’ (on Snapchat) that I showed M.J. because I was watching it, I filmed the video of him getting the pick six, and I was like, ‘woah,’ now that I’m not able to actually play in this game it’s an awesome experience.”
The ‘Pitt Six’ will go down as one of the greatest moments in the long, storied history of the Backyard Brawl, and Devonshire is still — over a year later — seeing just how many people he impacted with that one play.