Struggles Continue for Pitt Football: Defense Woes and Inconsistent Offense

2023-10-02 03:08:43

Pitt football fell to Virginia Tech Saturday night, marking their fourth loss in a row. The Panthers haven’t lost four games in a row since 2020 — and their schedule doesn’t get any easier going forward.

The loss to the Hokies puts the Panthers at 1-4 heading into their bye week. While there are many factors into why the Panthers have struggled, the heart of the problems are on the most important facets of the game — offense and defense.

Here are my takeaways from the contest.

Defense continues to disappoint

The Panthers defense is not good in 2023. And “not good” is a compliment for the Panthers’ defense.

The Panthers have surrendered 130 points in 2023, currently ranking No. 11 in the ACC. From 2018-2022, the Panthers have achieved a top-eight-ranked defense in the ACC. Head coach Pat Narduzzi was a defensive coordinator at Michigan State and Cincinnati prior to coming to Pitt, and he always emphasizes defense in his game plan.

It’s just not working this year, though. The Panthers let the Hokies’ sophomore quarterback Kyron Drones decimate them on Saturday. Drones threw for three touchdown passes, tallied 269 total yards and added two more touchdowns through the ground.

Last week, the Panthers lost to a North Carolina team led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Drake Maye. Maye is a likely first-round pick when he declares for the NFL draft, so the Panthers can give themselves a pass for his performance.

But Drones is the Hokies’ backup quarterback, and he arguably had a better game on Saturday than Maye did against the Panthers.

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This is the second time this season that the Panthers allowed an opposing backup quarterback to lead their team to victory. The Panthers’ defense is just not a good unit and patching it up is the biggest concern for them moving forward.

Offense showed signs of life, but it is still inconsistent

The Panthers shockingly scored a long offensive touchdown on a 75-yard connection between redshirt senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec and redshirt senior receiver Bub Means in the first quarter.

The Panthers followed up this with another long touchdown, this time on a screen pass from Jurkovec to redshirt senior running back C’Bo Flemister.

But other than these, the Panthers could hardly move the ball. The Panthers tallied just nine first downs against the Hokies. Outside of the two touchdown passes, Jurkovec completed nine of 20 passes for 99 yards.

The Panthers couldn’t get it going on the ground either. The running back unit rushed 19 times for 60 yards, just over three yards per carry. The Hokies defense ranks No. 10 in the ACC, one spot above the Panthers. Yet the Hokies’ offense did enough to pull out the win, while the Panthers did not.

As fans saw last week, Jurkovec is the Panthers’ best available option at quarterback. Fans can blame Jurkovec for the passing games’ woes, but they can’t contribute the lackluster rushing game to him as well.

Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti need to capitalize on their players’ strengths and put Jurkovec in positions to win.

Rough roads ahead

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The Panthers struggled through arguably their easiest stretch of games to start the year. Cincinnati, West Virginia and Virginia Tech were all unranked when they played the Panthers — and they were all victorious.

The Panthers host newly ranked No. 25 Louisville at home for homecoming, before traveling to Wake Forest the next week. The Panthers face both No. 11 Notre Dame and No. 5 Florida State in consecutive weeks, and down the line they travel to Durham in a road contest against No. 19 Duke.

The Panthers’ schedule is tough and if their performances to start the year are any indication of how they will finish, this team may not win more than two games.

It’s still early, but 2023 is shaping up as the worst year of Narduzzi’s coaching career at Pitt. The Panthers need to go into the bye week, rest and come out of it with answers if they want to salvage their season.

The Panthers return from bye on October 14 against No. 25 Louisville at Acrisure Stadium.

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