Football, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU will face Pitt offense with much-different look in Backyard Brawl

MORGANTOWN — Pitt’s 11-win season a year ago was one Panthers fans will remember for a long time: An ACC championship, Heisman finalist quarterback and Biletnikoff winner wide receiver.

Pitt jumped from 79th in the nation in 2020 in total yards per game offensively to 8th (486.6), and it felt like the perfect storm with offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, QB Kenny Pickett and wide receiver Jordan Addison.

The Panthers were also 8th in the country in passing yards per game at 337.4.

Now, Whipple is at Nebraska, Pickett was a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Addison transferred to USC.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi, who has been publicly critical of Whipple’s offensive play-calling from a year ago, brought in Frank Cignetti Jr. — son of the former WVU coach by the same name — as his new offensive coordinator.

USC transfer (the other way) Kedon Slovis was named the starting quarterback and there is still a host of talented wide receivers in the Pitt WR corps.

Their first test will be Thursday when Pitt takes on WVU at 7 p.m. at Acrisure Stadium, the first Backyard Brawl since 2011.

Make no mistake, though, this will be a different offense than what the Panthers featured in 2021.

“They’ve been pretty open about that’s what they want to do,” WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “We know that’s where we have to be at our best Thursday night.”

Narduzzi said he expects Pitt to have its first 1,000-yard rusher in five years this season, and with Cignetti Jr.’s recent track record at Boston College, the Panthers will be more multiple than they were with Whipple and Pickett at the helm.

“The system we’re in now, it’s going to be better than what you’ve seen before,” running back Vincent Davis said.

The trio of Davis, Israel Abanikanda and Rodney Hammond combined to rush for 1,748 yards and 16 touchdowns, and all three are back, running behind an offensive line returning all five starters.

So how do the Mountaineers plan on countering?

“It has helped how we’re able to play the rest of the front by having guys who can hold the point,” Lesley said. “I don’t want to say pluggers. I hate that term. But big, strong bodies that can really hold the point.”

Head coach Neal Brown said the defense will play more of a 7-man front, a bit of a different look compared to the nickel look WVU’s given the last few years. Expect the Spear safety spot to play more in the box to help slow down Pitt’s expected running game.

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