By Ray Porter Jr.
Fresh off another successful season that included a Sun Bowl win, the 2023 Pitt Panthers football team is prepared to ascend even higher in an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) without Divisions (Pitt won two Coastal Division titles) with another ACC Title in its sights is now.
“It’s game time. I think it’s fun to get into game week. I think our guys are excited about playing somebody else, game planning, really working situations. I think that’s part of the game,” said Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi. “I think they’re sick of hitting each other. I think it’s a great opportunity to find out where we are. I say this all the time: we can feel good as we stand out there, and you had a good day yesterday, and this guy looked good, that guy looked good, but it all comes down to what you do on Saturdays, and nobody cares what you did the last two years. 20 wins are never going to get you a win this year.”
Pitt opens its 134th season of intercollegiate football when the Panthers host the Wofford Terriers at Acrisure Stadium (3:30PM ET) Wofford plays in the Football Championship Subdivision and is a member of the Southern Conference, perennially one of the strongest FCS leagues. The Panthers have played 21 prior games against FCS opponents and are 20-1 in those contests.
“Our goal is to go out and look sharp on Saturday and beat Wofford. That’s a good football team.” Said Narduzzi. “It’s got 14 returning starters, seven on defense and five on offense, and two specialists they got back. Again, the head coach, Shawn Watson, is a great friend of mine, goes way back. Obviously, he worked here for a couple years, and we still stay in touch. Just a super coach and has been a head coach before.”
As Narduzzi knows, FCS or not, it’s never good to underestimate an opponent or look down on them as the weaker opponent, because upsets can happen (see Pitt vs. Youngstown St in 2012 in which the Penguins stunned the Paul Chryst-led Panthers 31-17)
“You think about it, they didn’t win a game before he took over, and again, I’ve got a lot of respect for the head coach prior to that, but just a little bit of a change with the offensive coordinator and someone else calling it and Shawn taking over as a head coach.” Said Narduzzi. “They were 3-3 as the interim head coach, and that’s how he got the job. Officially, I’ll congratulate him in the media. Happy for him and his wife. It’s a great opportunity for him to take over that program and have something great there.”
Pitt is one of just six teams that will play 11 “Power Conference” opponents in 2023, joining Colorado, Louisville, Purdue, Utah, and West Virginia.
In 2023, Pitt will have a new look-especially on offense, as QB Phil Jurkovich, who was a transfer from Boston College. When speaking about his starting QB, Narduzzi replied, “Yeah, we ended up being consistent for sure. I mean, I think what you saw — again, there’s those consistent guys and inconsistent guys and you try to change and get more consistent than you do inconsistent. The guys that were still inconsistent, they still were inconsistent probably. Maybe we took three or four guys that were inconsistent and put them to that next level, like, hey, they’ve got it. But we’ve just got to put them in a position to be successful.”
Rodney Hammond, Jr. will be the starting RB, and Bub Means, Konata Mumfield, and transfer Daejon Reynolds will be the starting WRs. Gavin Bartholomew is the starting TE, and Matt Goncalves (LT), Branson Taylor (RT), and Kevin Jocoby (LG) represent the offensive line.
On Defense, Dayvon Hayes and Nate Temple are the Defensive Ends, and the interior linemen are Devin Danielson and Deandre Jules. The 3 LBs are Solomon Deshields, Shayne Simon, and Bangally Kamara, and the Defensive Backs are Marquis Williams, MJ Devonshire (CB), SS Javon Mcintyre, and FS Philip O’Brien Jr.
The Specialists are K Ben Sauls, Caleb Junko is the punter, and the Long Snapper is Byron Floyd.
“Again, we’ve got to make plays on defense. They’ve got to make plays, too. Because we’re so simple, we could change it all up against them, and obviously we’ve got wrinkles from what we did a year ago compared to what we’re doing now, but everybody has got wrinkles and changes they’ve made through the off-season, things that were good for you, things that weren’t good for you, things we need to add to the package, but we’ve done that forever,” said Narduzzi.
Pitt enters the 2023 season riding a five-game winning streak. It is the second-longest active winning streak among ACC schools (Florida State, six) and tied for the sixth-longest nationally. They have won a combined 20 games the past two seasons, its most since 1981-82. The Panthers’ 20 wins over that span rank second in the ACC (Clemson, 21) and tied for eighth nationally. Since 2015, Pat Narduzzi has directed Pitt to 41 victories in ACC play, the second-highest win total during that span. Pitt trails only Clemson (60).
“Again, practicing is different than playing a game. Sometimes you see more out of a guy in a game than you do in practice, and you’re like, what are you doing.” Said Narduzzi. “I thought near the end they got sick of playing against each other, to be honest with you, this last week, so I think we need to — it was time for a change. Again, Saturday will be our change.”
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