Pete needs to take a long look in the mirror

pittsburgh – There was a point in the third quarter where I found myself wondering if there would be any actual positives to come out of that bad Pitt loss to Cincinnati.

Pitt was down by 20 points, the offense looked completely lost, and the defense was completely unable to stop Cincinnati running back Corey Keener and even Ben Soles missed a field goal. It was bleak. Still not great. But there are some things we hope can be taken away from this disappointing loss.

Pat Narduzzi likened Saturday’s loss to the real season opener, but it certainly wasn’t. Pitt opened the season against Wofford last weekend, and Saturday’s game was a very poor showing for a team that heralded the seriousness with which it took Wofford and how that hands-on approach bodes well for the better part of the season.

“Obviously I’m not happy with the performance we gave today,” Narduzzi said after the loss. “I thought we played a better second half. But we didn’t make enough plays. The game of football is about chances, and we had chances there. We just didn’t make a play.”

“I thought we started out defensively, and we couldn’t make plays. They didn’t stop their run. If you don’t stop their run and you don’t run the football, it’s hard to win the game. He didn’t get any turnovers in the first half.

“Again, it’s a non-conference game the way I look at it, and then we have West Virginia this week, so that’s where our focus will be.”

Pitt had to show Wofford the warm-up he needed and fire up a Cincinnati team that was picked to finish second-to-last in the Big 12. But he didn’t do it. In fact, there are only more questions now after the disappointing loss.

The season isn’t over yet, and it’s not even close, but Pitt needs to know what type of team they will be this season.

Pete quarterback Phil Jurkovic.

Pittsburgh Panthers Quarterback Phil Jurkovic (5) September 9, 2023 David Hague/PSN

Phil Jurkovic is not good enough

Phil Jurkovic simply wasn’t good enough to beat Cincinnati. He didn’t have much help, but it would be dishonest to say he wasn’t bad on Saturday night.

He still could have erased three bad quarters of football by leading a game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, but the offense as a whole — coaches and players — wasted not one but two potential go-ahead opportunities.

Jurkovic completed 10 of 32 pass attempts (31%) for 179 yards and three touchdowns. The three touchdowns look nice, and he made two legitimate throws on touchdowns to Konata Mumpfield and Gavin Bartholomew. But there was a lot wrong. It would be unfair to blame only the offensive line for his struggles.

“I think it starts first with the offensive line,” Narduzzi said. “It takes 11 minutes. Everyone will point to the midfielder. He’ll get all the glory when you win football games. He’s a great midfielder, and I have a lot of confidence in him.

But there was a lot of pressure. Phil was sent off five times. This cannot happen. When was the last time we won a game with five quarterback sacks?

Jurkovic was under more pressure than Pitt’s offensive line should be comfortable with, but Jurkovic was a problem on Saturday. He was indecisive, missed open throws with his eyes and arm, and looked uncomfortable when driving. This can’t continue, especially for a sixth-year senior in his third season of Frank Cignetti Jr.’s offense.

After his post-match comments, Jurkovic won’t get much sympathy from the fanbase either.

Pittsburgh Panthers Tight End Gavin Bartholomew (86) September 9, 2023 David Hague/PSN

The offensive approach needs to change

It’s one game, but I seem to have fallen in love with the Bub Means hype this summer. He was a complete non-factor on Saturday. It was the way in which he failed to make an impact that stood out.

Remarkably, he was not a factor, scoring 11 goals. 11. He did not throw a single pass. There were certainly some difficult balls in those 11 overs, some dropped balls that could have been excellent passes, but he let the easy balls fall to the turf. 11 goals. 0 catch.

Pitt needed a way to leave the slumps in 2022 and emerge as a contested hunting target this season. He didn’t do that at all, and that’s a big problem. There’s an easy Waffle House joke here, but I won’t be able to pull it off. It is unforgivable to have this level of lack of influence on such a large scale.

Do you know what else is unforgivable? Gavin Bartholomew wasn’t even on the field late in the fourth quarter. Or Rodney Hammond Jr. Speaking of Hammond, he received six carries against Cincinnati.

Does Narduzzi feel Pitt needs to involve Hammond more in attack?

“Maybe,” Narduzzi said. “We’ll look at the tape and figure out who was effective there, but again, it’s about standing back and throwing the ball, and there aren’t any players receiving passes, period.”

I know Pitt wants to spread the wealth through the linebackers, and Daniel Carter and C’Bo Flemister are certainly serviceable linebackers, but Hammond is your best linebacker. Six touches is not enough.

I don’t think Frank Cignetti Jr. called the game terrible, at least until the last two outings, but I don’t understand – at all – why he didn’t utilize his best players. Bartholomew picks it up 60 yards on a catch-and-run, and follows it up with a back-shoulder jumper. Konata Mumpfield brings up all four scores – including two impressive touchdowns. The two best options for receiving a home.

And in the last two rounds, with the opportunity to take the lead, Pitt sends deep balls to Means and Dejon Reynolds. Not one is connected. Not one. game over.

When Pitt gave the ball to its best players, good things happened. It wasn’t enough.

Pete linebacker Shane Simon.

Pittsburgh Panthers linebacker Shane Simon (32) September 9, 2023 David Hague/PSN

The defense offered a chance to win

Pitt allowed 180 yards in the first half. Just under double last season’s average per game. not good. He averaged about 9 yards per rush clip. Not very good.

If there’s anything that stands out in Pitt’s loss to Narduzzi, it’s the lackluster defensive performance.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Narduzzi said. “You know what? We would like to stop the run. We didn’t do that. They do a good job offensively with the imbalance and some different things they do. We didn’t react, we didn’t train well enough to stop it. “We did a better job in the second half.”

Pitt allowed just 36 yards, for a total of 108, in the second half. And 36 of those yards, the only touchdown of the second half came on a Jurkovic fumble inside Pitt territory in the third quarter on the first offensive play of the half. 35 yards from Cincy’s Emory Jones’ 125 on the night on one drive.

Pete locked Jones up all night. He wasn’t the dynamic threat he was against Eastern Kentucky. Keener did the most damage. But Pitt limited him, Jones and the entire Bearcats offense in the second half.

“We’ll look at the tape and figure out exactly what it is, but we’ve made adjustments,” Narduzzi said. “We’re talking about being one of the best adaptive defenses in the country, and we made that run in the second half. They had seven points in the second half on a 39-yard turnover. Otherwise they’d be shut out in the second half. They had a short field on a turnover, and it’s hard to win “This way. We should have stopped them from scoring in the second half, and we would have won, period.”

Good. We’ve already gotten over the offensive error. No need to reformulate.

When Pitt needed defense the most, it forced a 14-yard punt with just over seven minutes left. Three and out. And then – once again – the defense got the ball back thanks to Marquis Williams – with Bangali Kamara applying the pressure and Williams taking out Jones. And Pete handed it down.

The defensive line still seems to be a bit of a concern, as it failed to generate much pressure against Jones, but I think the growth on the defensive line will come. There has to be a real difference maker both at home and abroad to pair with Deon Hayes.

Pittsburgh Panthers Quarterback Phil Jurkovic (5) September 9, 2023 David Hague/PSN

Everything needs work

No unit is safe from criticism after Saturday’s performance. Maybe a gambler. Caleb Junco was very good.

It’s only been two weeks, but Pitt has already reached a point where he needs to figure out how this season is going to go quickly. Cincinnati wasn’t supposed to be a roadblock. Cincy and West Virginia were projected to finish 13th and 14th in the Big 12 this season. If Pitt plays like he did against WVU, it could be a long night.

There’s an obvious weakness in West Virginia’s secondary, but who’s to say Pitt will be able to exploit that against the Mountaineers? There is a lot of work to do, and things to figure out, this week.

“Everything,” Narduzzi said. “We have a lot to work on. As I told the players afterwards, last week there were no weaknesses. Maybe they thought they were very good; maybe they thought they would show up today. But now you find out where your weaknesses are. I think the coaches know both sides of the ball. We played with a few players in attack and defence, and we will find out who can play.

Narduzzi said several times, at least five times, that Pitt would go back and watch the tape and try to fix what went wrong. There won’t be a lot of time to prepare for West Virginia, but it should improve quickly. The schedule will get tougher after West Virginia.

Narduzzi, at least, was glad his team didn’t fold on Saturday night.

“Again, the important thing is our guys didn’t quit,” Narduzzi said. “When everyone was thinking, ‘Okay, this isn’t looking good, our guys are back and we have a chance to win the game.'” If we don’t miss a field goal early in the game, we’re going to be in field goal range, we’re going to tie it up and we’re going to go to overtime and you guys work “Overtime. But we didn’t play enough games.”

Pete needs to find out exactly who this team is, and fast.

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