MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The most anticipated game of the 2023 WVU football season is nearly here.
WVU (1-1) and Pitt (1-1) will battle under the lights of Milan Puskar Stadium in West Virginia Saturday night for the first time since 2011 in a revenge game for the Mountaineers following their 38-31 loss to the Panthers last year in Pittsburgh.
The Brawl’s return to Morgantown
It’s been 4,313 days since the Backyard Brawl last went down in Morgantown, so you bet the Mountaineer fanbase will be out in full force Saturday.
Though Pitt leads the series with a 62-40-3 record against WVU, the Mountaineers won seven of the last 10 Backyard Brawls that were played in Morgantown, including the 2011 matchup that concluded the series’ 69-season streak. The Panthers last won back-to-back Brawls in the 2007-2008 seasons.
The 2007 game – the one in which Pitt derailed WVU’s BCS championship aspirations in a 13-9 victory – was Pitt’s last win at West Virginia.
Both teams enter Saturday’s matchup with a 1-1 record, and WVU is considered slim favorites. The Mountaineers and Panthers only played one overtime game in the previous 105 meetings (college overtime didn’t become standard until 1996). In 1997, Pitt won a triple-overtime game over WVU 41-38 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“This is heated,” head coach Neal Brown said. “And we understand that, and our players are looking forward to getting back into that.”
An early season-defining moment?
It’s rare that a season-defining game comes so early in the season. Rivalries are typically executed within conferences, and Thanksgiving weekend is typically reserved for rivalry week.
For the second year in a row, WVU can positively or negatively affect the buzz from its fanbase for the rest of the season depending on a win or a loss Saturday night.
“I know this is one that’s been circled for a long time,” Brown said. “It’s been sold out for a long time. A lot of people [are] coming into town for this, and so it’s a great opportunity.”
WVU’s next three opponents (Texas Tech, TCU, Houston) are a combined 2-4 through the first two weeks of the season. If the Mountaineers could win three-or-four of their next four games, they will either be 5-1 or 4-2 heading into the Oklahoma State-UCF-BYU (6-0 combined through two weeks) gauntlet starting in late-October.
A win over Pitt would set the tone for the rest of the season, especially with conference play starting next week.
Pitt scouting report
Since 2015 – the year Pat Narduzzi took over as head football coach at Pitt – the Panthers have completed 14 second-half comebacks.
Narduzzi’s teams don’t quit, and last year’s Backyard Brawl was a prime example of that.
The Panthers nearly erased a 27-7 deficit last week at home against Cincinnati, but they lost 27-21 despite a 14-point fourth quarter led by 6-foot-5-inch veteran quarterback Phil Jurkovec.
Jurkovec completed just 31.24% (10-for-32) of his passes for 179 yards and three scores in a game that was likely one to forget for the Pittsburgh native.
The running back trio of Daniel Carter, C’Bo Flemister and Rodney Hammond Jr. have combined for 209 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a fairly even split of 43 carries. Jurkovec also contributed 91 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Tight end Gavin Bartholomew has been the premiere pass-catching threat with 118 yards receiving and a touchdown.
The Pitt defense allowed 107.5 rushing yards and 141 passing yards per game in Weeks 1 and 2, and its coming off a season in which it led the nation in sacks.
“They do a really good job of scheming [against] protections,” Brown said. “Let’s face it too now, they’ve had good players. They’ve had good players on the front [and] they’ve got good players this year on the front.”