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Backyard Brawl Q&A: Staring Down The Musket At Pitt

We went behind enemy lines to gain some intel about the Panthers from The Sicko Committee’s Obnoxiously Pitt Girl.

NCAA Football: Duquesne at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Backyard Brawl unfolds,

Rivalry in full display,

Q&A column

Musket: Pitt has a quarterback from the North Hills who can be accurately called “Big Phil,” which feels like it should be enough to make a Pitt quarterback invincible. However, Jurkovec struggled in a relatively unexpected loss to Cincy. What were the main issues and do Pitt fans think he can recover to have a strong season?

OPG: Saying Phil struggled against Cincy feels like the understatement of the year. He was 10/32 for 179 yards, and the receiver he targeted the most, Bub Means, made zero catches on something like 11 targets. It wasn’t that the receivers were dropping decent balls, either. Jurk was straight up not putting the ball in their ZIP code most of the time. I might be a more accurate passer than he was Saturday night.

Regardless, I think there was an underlying issue: Pitt didn’t run the ball enough. Coach Cignetti started the game by calling three straight passing plays, all of which ended up incomplete, and I still don’t understand why that was the gameplan. Pitt’s RB room is deep - Rodney Hammond Jr., Daniel Carter, and C’Bo Flemister are all very good - and they only got six carries each.

Slinging the ball around is not Pitt’s offensive identity, and the more Phil was asked to throw, the more pressure it put on him to dig out of the hole he was creating, so he started forcing things and it got even worse. If Pitt can establish the run first in games moving forward, I think the vicious cycle we saw last week can be avoided and Phil will have a better chance to have a decent season. Mean regression alone also means that it’s unlikely he’ll be as bad as he was last week the whole year (I hope. Please. I don’t know if I can survive another season of Slovis-like QB play.)

Pitt seems to always have a talented defensive line group. West Virginia is going to try to run a ton and look to avoid pressure on their young quarterback. How does this Pitt line stack up against the run and as a pass rushing group?

Pitt’s DL had to replace some really great players this year - I miss Haba Baldonado and Calijah Kancey already! - and that was evident against Cincinnati. Pitt gave up 216 yards on the ground and only got two sacks. It’s hard for me to say more of substance right now because I am by no means a defensive expert and our dataset for this season is two games, one of which was against Wofford.

With that said, I’m reasonably confident that they will improve significantly over that performance as the season goes on, both because defense is Narduzzi’s specialty and because there are a lot of seniors in the unit. I guess we’ll find out if I’m right on Saturday!

A thing I’ve noticed online, especially after last year’s game, is that Pitt fans seem to have a newfound appreciation for this rivalry and what it means to both schools and fanbases. Is this accurate, and if so how much of it has to do with Penn State fans still trying to big time Pitt even after a competitive series a few years back?

You nailed it. We hate that Penn State thinks they’re big brother. We hate WVU too, but we love that WVU actually wants to play this game and doesn’t pretend like they’re too good for us or like the rivalry isn’t real, unlike that school out east. With the Brawl, the best part is that we’re hating and being hated back on even terms. (By the way, I am writing this on 9/13. Happy Good Score Day, Mountaineers!)

What’s the general feeling about Pitt fans about this most recent summer of flux in college sports? Is there any excitement for the recent ACC additions and the future of the conference as a whole? If the time comes where the ACC gets raided by the SEC and/or the Big Ten and Pitt is left out, would the fanbase be open to a potential Big 12 reunion with teams like Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Syracuse joining the league’s eastern bloc?

It’s been a weird time! As a fan of college football at large, it’s been sad to see the PAC-12 die like this, and it felt weird to see Cincinnati with the Big XII flag last Saturday.

I don’t know that Pitt fans are excited about Cal, Stanford, and SMU so much as we’re relieved that it’s not our conference falling apart at the moment. With that said, I do think it’s going to be fun to be Deranged Online at 1AM Eastern when Pitt is playing a night game in California. Honestly, I was hoping we’d pick up Wazzu and Oregon State too; it’s wildly unfair to them that they’re being left out, and I would love an excuse to go to Pullman and consume a concerning amount of Cougar Gold and Fireball.

If the ACC falls apart, I am all for Pitt being part of Big East II: Biggest XII Boogaloo. It makes sense as a home for us, especially since I don’t see Penn State ever allowing us into the B1G if they can help it, as it would mean they would have to play us regularly, and we’d get to play more historical rivals like WVU and Cincy. The ACC is fun and all, but having Syracuse as the designated conference rival in football is....not the most compelling, the 2016 76-61 game aside.

Pat Narduzzi built Pitt back up after years of chaos after the decision to move on from Wanny. However, from the outside it seems like there are some concerns that he may have plateaued. Is the fanbase generally still happy with Duzz and is there any concern that he’ll have wandering eyes for the Michigan State job?

I am still cool with Duzz. I think there is a decently sized contingent of Pitt folks who disagree with me, but they are probably not the majority. Duzz is 41-25 in conference since 2015, which is the second highest conference win total in the ACC after Clemson in that time frame. We had an ACC championship, an NY6 appearance, and a Heisman finalist two years ago! Undergrad me would have fallen over dead in shock if you told her that!

All that to say, I am of the opinion that he’s been more than adequate, and I don’t think there’s a compelling reason to make a change at the present moment. I’ve seen too many teams (Nebraska and Auburn come to mind, as well as Pitt itself in the post-Wanny years) get burned by firing a decent coach and replacing him with a hot name that turns out to actually be garbage to be someone who is interested in firing a coach that hasn’t outright failed.

I am not particularly worried about him going to Michigan State - there’s this perception that he’s a Michigan State ManTM, because he was there under Dantonio for so long, but I don’t think that’s accurate. He’s from Youngstown and didn’t play for MSU or anything. I think he’s more of a Brent Venables-type, in that he was happy where he was as a DC and was waiting for the right opportunity rather than taking the first job that opened just for the sake of moving up. Also, I’m not sure MSU is even interested in him. Do we really think they want to go back to 13-10 Big Ten West slogs all the time?

BONUS ROUND: What’s your favorite Pokemon? If this question is foreign to you give a cool TV, movie, video game, or podcast rec.

This is hard! They’re all good Pokemon, Musket!

If I have to pick one, I think I’m going to have to go with Tinkaton. Her “small and angry but with a big smashy hammer” energy is something I aspire to. (Honorable mentions: Dratini, Rowlet, Scorbunny.)

Thanks again to Obnoxiously Pitt Girl. You can follow her @the_opg_ on Twitter and on Bluesky. OPG is also a regular on the Sickos Committee Podcast, along with resident WVU fan, Beth. Check out The Sickos Committee on Twitter @SickosCommittee, and listen to the Sickos Committee Podcast everywhere podcasts are served.