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PITT PANTHERS PREVIEW


The Pitt Panthers finished 9-4 in 2022 after getting a victory over UCLA in the Sun Bowl. The Panthers return only 12 starters and lose a fair amount of production on both sides of the ball. However, head coach Pat Narduzzi is a defensive guru and has ample replacements for the losses on the defense. Below is my preview of each position group for the 2023 Pitt Panthers.


OFFENSE

Quarterbacks: While Pitt loses their top two quarterbacks from 2022, the quarterback room may be in better shape with the additions of Boston College transfer Phil Jurkovec and Penn State transfer Christian Vielleux. Jurkovec, a former southwestern Pennsylvania local high school star, reunites with his former offensive coordinator at Boston College, Frank Cignetti. Jurkovec’s best statistical season was with Cignetti and if the senior gunslinger can stay healthy should produce similar numbers. The backup is Vielleux, a sophomore who played in only five games for Penn State and provides Coach Narduzzi with a solid option if Jurkovec gets injured or falters. This may be the tallest group of quarterbacks in the country with Jurkovec at 6-foot-5, Vielleux at 6-foot-4, and both sophomore Nate Yarnell and freshman Ty Dieffenback checking in at 6-foot-6!

Running backs: Junior Rodney Hammond, Jr. is a star ready for a breakout season. Hammond finished second on the team with 460 yards and five touchdowns despite missing five games due to injury. If he can stay healthy Hammond should eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. His backup is senior C’Bo Flemister who finished fourth last season with 221 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Derrick Davis Jr. transferred in from LSU and should push for playing time as well.


Wide Receivers: Three of the top four receivers from 2022 are back. Junior Konata Mumpfield hauled in 58 passes for 551 yards and one touchdown. Senior Bub Means averaged 14.9 yards and junior tight end Gavin Bartholomew averaged 13.5 yards per catch. As was the case with the quarterbacks, the receivers are tall. Eight of the nine listed on the depth chart are at least 6 feet tall. The receivers behind the starters are young as five of the six listed backups are freshmen.


Offensive Line: This group returns three starters including senior center Jake Kradel and senior tackle Matt Goncalves, who were both Third-Team All-ACC selections in 2022. Senior guard Blake Zubovic, junior guard Jacoby Ryan, and senior tackle Branson Taylor round out the starting five. The offensive line as a whole has 84 combined starts.


DEFENSE

Defensive Line: Only one starter is back, but seven of eight on the two-deep are seniors, so this is an experienced group. Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge is one of the best in the business, so the Pitt defensive line will always be a solid unit. Defensive tackle David Green and defensive end Dayon Hayes both had 3.5 sacks, which is tops for returning defensive linemen. Waiting in the wings is sophomore defensive tackle Elliot Donald, nephew of former Pitt All-American defensive lineman Aaron Donald.


Linebackers: While the Panthers lose First-Team All-ACC selection SirVocea Dennis, this group should be one of the better linebacker units in the country. Seniors Bengally Kamara and Shayne Simon are the top returning tacklers with 49 and 46 respectively. Junior Solomon Deshields finished 2022 with four sacks, tops for all returning defenders. Like the defensive line, the linebackers also are young behind the starters with two freshmen and one sophomore on the depth chart.


Defensive Backs: Coach Narduzzi faces a tough task of replacing both starting safeties from 2022. Sophomore Javon McIntyre and junior Phillip O’Brien, Jr. have some game experience but there will be a learning curve as they settle into their new starting roles. Senior cornerback MJ Devonshire tied for the team lead with three interceptions and fellow senior cornerback AJ Woods led the Panthers with 13 passes broken up.


Special Teams: Junior kicker Ben Sauls hit 20 of 24 field goals with a long of 51 yards and 47 of 47 PATs. Sophomore punter Caleb Junko had 12 punts with an average of 48.7 yards, thanks mostly to an 85-yard punt against UCLA in the Sun Bowl. Junko also had four punts downed inside the 20-yard line. MJ Devonshire is a dangerous punt returner who averaged 9.7 yards per return and had one punt returned for a touchdown.


PREDICTION for Pitt

The schedule makers threw the Panthers a bone as this is not one of the more difficult schedules to navigate. If things bounce Pitt’s way the Panthers could be 7-0 heading into the road tilt with Notre Dame on October 28th. However, I think there will be one stumble for Pitt before they head to South Bend as I think they will drop their home game on September 23rd to North Carolina. I also see them dropping the back-to-back games at Notre Dame and at home against Florida State. Getting acclimated to a new quarterback is always tough but Pitt plays at home against Cincinnati and at West Virginia early in the schedule, in weeks two and three respectively. They also catch the Bearcats and Mountaineers during down years and should come out of both games on top. I see this being a 9-3 season for the Panthers and a possible return to the Sun Bowl.

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