By Ray Porter Jr.
PITTSBURGH, PA-_The Pitt Panthers football team wanted to put their best foot forward as they began their 2023 season, which first meant not underestimating their opponent, the Wofford Terriers from South Carolina. After all, on any given day, a team can win or get beat and that’s something the Panthers didn’t want to fall victim to.
Well, the mission was accomplished as the Panthers defeated the Terriers 45-7.
“Game one under our belt. You know, we talked earlier in the week, I think it was Wednesday morning, just about what kind of team we were, what kind of material do we have,” said Pitt head coach Patt Narduzzi. “We were able to come out here and play an FCS team and play the way we’re supposed to. Not play down; play up. I don’t know if it could have been a better first half the way our guys played and came out and played a solid second half. We got a lot of guys to play today.”
As Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin would say, it was a ‘complete-game effort’ in all three phases as the Panthers outmatched, outmuscled, and outplayed the Terriers. On offense, they rushed for 217 yards, led by FB Daniel Carter’s 65 and a TD. Starting RB Rodney Hammond Jr. (25 yards) scored 2 TDs, including the first one late in the first quarter. C’Bo Flemister added 27 yards, and Che Nwabuko added 24 yards on an ‘end-around.’
“Daniel had a great camp. As we talked usually after practice in August every day. He is consistent. He stayed healthy the whole time,” said Narduzzi. “So, Rodney is really good, too, as you know, and C’Bo is really good. I think we have three guys. We’re going to keep them fresh and see who breaks away. I’m happy with what Daniel — really all three of those backs did today. Wizz got out there. His nickname is Wizz, Montravius Lloyd. He had a big old Wizz thing on his chain there. I’m, like, Wizz? Wizz went out there and played hard too, so I think he is going to be a good back for the future.”
In his first game as a Panther, Phil Jurkovec had a solid performance as he passed for 214 yards (10/12) and threw his first Pitt TD to WR Karter Johnson. He also rushed for 53 yards and ran for a 23-yard TD. Backup QB Christian Veilleux relieved Jurkovec in the 4th quarter and finished with 60 yards passing (5/9), including his first Pitt TD to WR Jake McConnachie, which was the final one for the day.
“I thought Phil was really good. I thought executed the game plan. I wish they were out a couple of times late instead of trying to throw. You know, grass in front of him. He is such a good runner; let him run,” said Narduzzi. “There’s nothing that defense hates more than scrambling out of the pocket, decent coverage, and then you throw an incomplete pass. So that’s something we’ll clean up. He is smart, and he just hadn’t had an opportunity to run very much in practice. That’s something that comes with going out there and taking your first hit as a quarterback. But I was really, really happy with where he was after game one.”
WR Konta Mumfield led with 3 receptions, fellow WR Bub Means led with 39 yards, and starting TE Gavin Bartholomew added 38 yards on 2 receptions.
“Bub can run. I don’t care who the DBs are. He can run by our guys sometimes. He can really get up and go,” said Narduzzi. “Again, we just have to put it on him. Maybe he was running faster. Maybe there’s adrenaline. We had the one that he ran through the split coverage there. We have to hit a couple of those, which will be the explosive plays that you want to get, but we’re happy with that depth in that room. And Kenny came out and got a catch. I think that was good, and saw Jake go make a play.
K Ben Sauls added a 4th Quarter FG for the Panthers (1-0).
On defense, they may be missing players like Calijah Kancey and SirVocea Dennis, but the Panthers certainly didn’t play like it as they smothered Wofford’s offense, limiting them to 126 total yards (-1-yard rushing) and Pitt’s pass rushers pressured Wofford QB Bryce Comisiton (12/17, 127 yards TD) often, sacking him 4 times.
“Yeah. Is (Athletic Director) Heather (Lyke) still here? We played Heather’s alma mater, Michigan.” Said Narduzzi. “They had minus-48. Sorry, Heather. Just one of those, he asked. I just had to tell him the truth. They had minus-48 yards rushing one time. Probably that was the best, and we’ve had a few kind of minuses through the years, but it was a great performance in the run defense.”
The Pitt Defense’s only mistake was giving up Wofford’s only TD to the game as Comiston found WR Tyler Parker for 75 yards.
The Panthers will now set their sights on the Cincinnati Bearcats (1-0) as they will come to Acrisure Stadium for a 6:30 matchup next Saturday.
“So really, we talked about are we just going to outscore them, or are we going to beat them down? I thought it was a beatdown really,” said Narduzzi. “We could have kind of done whatever we wanted to. The defense played well. The offense played well. Special teams were solid. We didn’t get to punt enough. I wish we would’ve had some more punt work, but overall happy with the performance by our guys.”
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