One Thing Was Missing from the 2023 Brawl

If you were in Milan Puskar Stadium or watching at home, everyone observing the Backyard Brawl this year could see something missing: passing. In fact, WVU only attempted 11 passes the entire game. Nicco Marchiol, the game QB1 following the injury to Greene, took the lion’s share of these attempts with 9, completing 6 of them. Even more surprisingly, the typically balanced attack of Pitt saw similar styles of game management until time was running out in the contest, and Jurkovec was forced to try and air it out.

So why the lack of passing? 

As far as I can tell, there are a few reasons why the run game was just more sensible for the Mountaineers in the Brawl and why I don’t believe that this will be the normal moving forward.

#1. The Game Plan Changed 

No matter how the Mountaineer Nation or the Panther fans saw last night going, you did not account for the loss of Garrett Greene in your scheming. Nicco Marchiol is a sound backup quarterback and will be a fantastic starter one day for the squad if NIL doesn’t steal him away, but this was the Backyard Brawl back in Morgantown for the first time in 12 years. People were loud, and this was much higher stakes for the fan base than the noise and excitement of Happy Valley.

WVU is going to lean on the running back room hard this year, but often not as hard as they did last night. Handoffs are the safe play; even with those, things can go wrong. We all watched a miscue between Donaldson and Marchiol that gave Pitt the ball back in excellent field position. When you introduce the pass in a situation where Nicco might not have been the most confident in his accuracy and scared to make a critical mistake and drop the game, I even applaud the use of safe play despite what past versions of myself have complained about.

#2. If It Ain’t Broke…

One of the main reasons why the run game got so much action last night was simply because it was working. Did the Mountaineers ever break away on some 60-70-yard dash down the sideline? No. The biggest run of the night was 17 yards by CJ Donaldson. The stats say 51 rushes were attempted last night to the 11 total passes, where the Mountaineers picked up more than 150 yards. In Donaldson’s 18 touches, he averaged 5.7 yards a carry. Chunk plays that kept moving the ball on an aggressive defense.

#3. Don’t Give an Inch

Looking back at the stats last night – total yards were dead even at 211. The edge? Turnovers at critical moments probably played the biggest part in securing the victory for the Mountaineers. WVU came away with three interceptions when the Pitt offense realized they needed to take shots if they were going to win the game. They nearly doubled the attempts of the Mountaineers, but Jurkovec was only 40% accurate against Nicco’s 66%. Pitt had three balls taken out of the air, one by Ruffin, one by Burkes, and one by Bishop.

How We Look Moving Forward

Hopefully, we get Garrett Greene back. We aren’t in awful shape with Nicco Marchiol, and it would be wise of Neal Brown to keep that kid primed and ready to jump into any game at any time if repeat injuries abound. I think the offense will be constructed around successfully running, which will be easier with some opponents than others. If the secondary can continue to improve and allow more opportunities for Kpogba and Lathan to shoot the gaps and rush the quarterback, we might have a defense that can help win football games.

Garrett had a couple of incompletions early in the contest that were egregiously missed pass interference calls. Poor Hudson Clement is probably still picking turf out of his teeth. As a collective fanbase, we should feel pretty good about the glimpses of electricity we have gotten from his throwing arm, especially connecting for deep balls with Fox, Carter, and Clement.

Do you want a measuring stick for the rest of the season? Get out of Morgantown Saturday with a win against Texas Tech’s fast-paced attack, and the Mountaineer faithful are ready to put the climbing gear back on. Kickoff is 3:30 PM on ESPN+

Photo Credit: AP News

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Benjamin Gilbert
Benjamin Gilbert here - panhandle resident and enjoyer of Pitt losses. First and foremost, I am a lifelong West Virginia Mountaineer fan and do my best to inspire that passion in my beautiful wife and talented kids. Unfortunately, fandom doesn't always pay the bills. I have been writing for a decade and a half for various professions and multi-faceted franchises, so writing is what I do. Combining my skills with my passion for the WVU teams, I always seek to provide fair and honest takes on our path to finding the top of college athletics. Let's Go.