Brawlin’ in the Backyard: West Virginia vs Pitt Week 1
As we get closer to the start of the college football season, approximately 40 days until kick off, the football Gods have blessed fans with a renewed rivalry. Two schools that are separated by 75 miles along Interstate 79. A rivalry that started way back toward the end of the 19th century.
The “Backyard Brawl”
The matchup is affectionately known as the “Backyard Brawl.” In one corner, the West Virginia Mountaineers. In the other corner, the Pitt Panthers.
Cue up ring announcer Michael Buffer because these two will definitely be ready to rumble.
It is the 14th oldest rivalry in the United States. Pitt owns a 61–40–3 record in the series. But the two haven’t played each other since 2011 (a 21–20 win by the Mountaineers) and Pitt hasn’t won against West Virginia since 2008 (a 19–15 victory).
The rivalry was halted due to both teams joining different conferences for the 2012 season: Pitt to the ACC and West Virginia to the Big 12. That broke a streak of 68 straight meetings.
ESPN College GameDay announced they will be on hand at The Brawl in Pittsburgh for the first time since 2005.
The Panthers’ Offense
Pitt lost some key players from last year’s ACC Championship team. QB Kenny Pickett was drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers and the Panthers share the same training facility, so it was just a matter of Pickett changing sides of the building.
WR Jordan Addison, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, entered the transfer portal and moved out west to join Lincoln Riley at USC.
But fear not Pitt fans, all is not lost. Enter QB Kedon Slovis, a transfer from USC. Slovis threw for 7576 yards and 58 TDs and 24 INTs in 3 seasons as a Man of Troy. He should ease the pain of losing Pickett just a little bit.
Pitt returns 15 starters. They return all five offensive linemen, a unit that did allow 34 sacks last season, bad enough to be ranked #97 in the FBS in that category. Another year together in Pat Narduzzi’s system hopefully will allow them to get much better at pass protection.
The Panthers also return their top 2 rushers who combined for 1144 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Panthers’ Defense
The defense returns seven starters spread out across all three levels of the unit.
In 2021, this unit was ranked:
- #6 in FBS in rushing defense @ 89 yards/game.
- #3 in sacks (54) in FBS, average of 3/game.
- #3 in tackles for loss (113), average of 8/game.
- Tied for 8th in INTs with 16.
- 14th in the FBS in Opp. 3rd Down Conversion % at 33.5%.
Pitt fans will be chompin’ at the bit for this one.
West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers’ Offense
West Virginia will also welcome a transfer quarterback to fall camp-J.T. Daniels.
Daniels, also a former USC signal-caller, couldn’t crack the lineup behind walk-on QB Stetson Bennett at Georgia. So, he hit the portal to reunite with OC Graham Harrell in Morgantown.
In his college career, Daniels has passed for almost 5000 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Harrell was brought in to resuscitate the offense. Harrell’s passing offenses at USC were ranked consistently in the Top 15 in the country. But WVA’s offense was awful last season:
- #86 in total offense (371 yards/game).
- #55 in passing offense (247 yards/game).
- #103 in rushing offense (123 yards/game).
- #88 in scoring offense (25 points/game).
The Mountaineers also return all 5 starters on the offensive line. But like Pitt, they played bad enough to rank #111 in the FBS in sacks allowed.
West Virginia returns their top receiver in Bryce Ford-Wheaton, who caught 42 passes for 575 yards and 3 TDs. But their leading returning rusher never found the endzone in 2021.
The Mountaineers’ Defense
WVA only returns three starters on defense, but they do return experience on the defensive line. DE Dante Stills racked up 36 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 7 sacks and a forced fumble on his way to earning 1st Team All-Big 12 honors.
DT Taijh Alston also returns after posting 37 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks.
At linebacker, Exree Loe returns. He made 38 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack and a forced fumble.
2011: WVA 21 — Pitt 20
The Mountaineers turned the ball over three times (three lost fumbles) and Pitt overcame a 20–7 deficit in the 3rd quarter to steal a victory.
2007: Pitt 13 — WVA 9
WVA was ranked #2 in the country and needed a win to secure a berth in the BCS Championship Game. The Mountaineers led 7–3 at halftime. Pitt, a 4–7 team, outscored them 10–2 in the second half.
WVA QB Pat White turned his worst game of the season, at the worst possible time. He passed for only 50 yards and zero TDs and rushed for only 41 yards. As a team, the Mountaineers gained less than 200 yards of total offense.
The loss cost WVA a shot at a national championship.
Pitt has a big advantage in returning experience. In my opinion, Slovis is a better quarterback. But with Harrell calling plays now in Morgantown, that bodes well for Daniels.
But in the end, Pitt gets the win in this latest edition of the “Brawl”
Thanks for reading.
Material for this article was sourced from cfbstats.com, wvusports.com, pittsburghpanthers.com, collegefootballnews.com, bluegoldnews.com, “College GameDay to Broadcast from Pittsburgh Before Backyard Brawl vs West Virginia”, by Michael Shapiro, si.com.
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