It's all teed up now, gang. Shit’s about to get real.
I made a joke on our preview pod about the fate of the world resting on game, and while it might be a joke as it relates to THE world, it certainly is not one as it relates to MY world. Everybody has a core set of beliefs that help guide the way they live their life, and for better or worse, foundational among mine is the idea that Pitt eats shit.
We’re at a crossroads as a program, and there are no moral victories this week. We either beat Pitt, or they beat us. A win gets us through non-conference play at an extremely reasonable 2-1 and gives us some momentum heading into an early conference slate that doesn’t seem nearly as tough as it did three weeks ago. A loss probably marks the official beginning of the end for the Neal Brown era in Morgantown. Let’s get to it.
Date: September 16th, 2023
Kickoff: 7:30PM EST
Where: Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium - Morgantown, WV
Live TV: ABC
Streaming: ESPN app
Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG (Radio Affiliates) | WVU Gameday App (Apple | Android)
Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), and Jed Drenning (sideline)
Reminder: It is against site policy to post links to illegal streams in the comments.
Spread: West Virginia +1.5
ML: WVU +104
Anything West Virginia-related is free money. Absolute howler from Vegas that this Pitt team is giving us points on our own field. Let’s take these dudes for all they’re worth.
Sunny - high 76/52 low - Wind 5 mph
I mean, twist my arm. An awful day to be a cold beverage in the Blue Lot.
Where are they from: Pittsburgh, PA.
All-time Series: 40-62-3. Pitt holds the all-time series lead, but the Mountaineers have a healthy advantage this century. Baby steps.
The Last Time We Played: 9/1/2022, West Virginia 31-38 Pitt. We choked it away last year. A chicken shit punt on 4th and inches up 7 with under 7 minutes to go, a 94-yard TD drive allowed on the ensuing possession, and then a tip drill pick-6. We went from in control to down 7 in about 3 minutes. Inexcusable.
Head coach: Pat Narduzzi (9th season, 63-41). Every rivalry needs a villain, and NardDawg checks all the boxes.
2023 record: 1-1. The Panthers opened the year with a big win against Wofford but had to claw tooth and nail to even make it respectable against Cincinnati last weekend.
WOMEN LIE, MEN LIE, NUMBERS DON’T
45% - Jurkovec has been under pressure on 45% of his dropbacks through two games. He's completing just 42% of throws in those situations for fewer than 5 yards per attempt. GO. GET. HIM.
5.1 - Yards per carry allowed by Pitt against Cincinnati last weekend. Context presented without comment: Cincinnati only averaged 5.2 ypc against Eastern Kentucky the week prior.
14.3% - Pitt's havoc rate through two games this year, with just 15 havoc plays (12 TFL, 3 PD) in 105 snaps. That's way down from the 20.4% they registered last year (168/834).
10 - Explosive passing plays allowed by our secondary through two games, good for 119th out of 131 nationally. I feel like we're taking crazy pills.
94.9 - Garrett Greene’s passing grade on his 10 attempts that have traveled further than 20 yards in the air.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL - STAY AGGRESSIVE
West Virginia Players to Watch: QB6 Garrett Greene, RB4 CJ Donaldson, RB0 Jaylen Anderson, TE87 Kole Taylor
Pitt Players to Watch: DE50 Dayon Hayes, LB11 Bangally Kamara, LB23 Solomon DeShields, CB12 MJ Devonshire
6 of Garrett Greene's 19 pass attempts traveled more than 20 yards in the air against Duquesne. He completed 4 of them for 177 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a 98.9 passing grade from PFF. Now you might fairly argue that that productivity is probably not sustainable against a real team (which we must unfortunately concede that Pitt is), but I do think that the zip and accuracy that Greene displayed on those throws was extremely encouraging nonetheless. We’re talking about high-level quarterback play here, with passes hitting downfield receivers in stride, and in the case of the Preston Fox touchdown, throwing him open by drilling the ball into his body between a linebacker and safety up the seam.
An examination of Greene’s passing charts over the last two seasons reveals diminishing returns the closer his passes are to the line of scrimmage, a fact acknowledged by Neal Brown in his post-game presser on Saturday. We need to continue to give him opportunities to attack downfield, not only because he’s shown that he can do it (our strengths, we play to them), but also because the threat of real vertical passing game (as opposed to We're Going to Manufacture Explosives in the Screen Game™️) will mean lighter boxes for CJ, Jaylen, and Co on the ground. Symbiosis. Football.
It’ll be tougher this weekend than last, with defensive backs MJ Devonshire, Marquis Williams, and AJ Woods ranking among Pitt’s most experienced and talented players, but this offense is simply never going to reach its ceiling if we recede into a turtle shell every time we play a competent secondary. We have to stay aggressive and let Greene to continue to attack down the field.
WHEN THEY HAVE THE BALL - STOP THE RUN; BLITZ THE JURK
Pitt Players to Watch: QB5 Phil Jurkovec, WR9 Konata Mumpfield, WR00 Bub Means, TE86 Gavin Bartholomew
West Virginia Players to Watch: DE91 Sean Martin, LB1 Lee Kpogba, LB19 Tray Lathan, S2 Aubrey Burks
Pitt’s skill guys and offensive line are generally pretty mid as far as P5 teams go, but when you consider that FCS Duquesne was able to generate 5 explosive passing plays on us you have to concede that mid is more than enough to give our secondary some trouble. The best way that we can help those guys is to get after Jurkovec when we force the ball into his hands.
I feel confident in a positive outcome here for two reasons. First, forcing passing situations has been one of the few things our defense has been good at through two games, with opponents facing 3rd and 7+ on 20 of the 25 3rd downs we’ve forced and converting just 5 of those opportunities. And second, pass protection is something that Pitt has really struggled with so far this year, especially last weekend against Cincinnati when the Bearcats generated 23 pressures and 6 sacks. The 45% pressure rate on Jurkovec is the 6th highest number among P5 quarterbacks with at least 20 dropbacks, and the poor rascal has really struggled to pass or run his way out of those situations. If we can get after him early, I think we can rattle him and force a mistake or two.
X-FACTOR - MOUNTAINEER FIELD
It struck me this week that nobody within the football program has seen Mountaineer Field lit up the way it's about to be lit up this weekend. The opponent, the way last year's game ended, the way the last five years have gone... there are just a number of factors that are giving me the feeling that it's all about to bubble over. I have rarely felt hungrier than I do right now, and I know I'm not the only one. I'm expecting a borderline riot-level atmosphere this weekend, one that has a chance to be the best since 2011 LSU at least. There's no way Phil "it's pathetic when grown men boo" Jurkovec is ready for that.
3 out of 10. I’m not even entertaining the idea of a loss this weekend. Pitt is not a good or dangerous football team.
I generally subscribe to "fear none, respect all", but this week is an exception. Every single person who played a role in their ACC Championship two years ago is gone, and there is no reason to be overly respectful of this group of bums making their way down I-79 this weekend. Cinci left us with no choice and no excuse - we have to smash.
Fortunately, I think there’s a lot to like about the matchups on both sides. Pitt wants to be physical and run the ball, and our front 7 is objectively well-suited to meet that. We want to be physical and run the ball, and Pitt just allowed 224 yards and 5.7ypc to a worse ground attack a few days ago. As long as we can avoid turnovers and big plays, I think we walk it. 4th quarter sack party that carries over into the parking lot after the game. LET’S GO!