Pitt's Pat Narduzzi excited for Week 1 matchup against former assistant and ‘friend’ Shawn Watson

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
nhiles@post-gazette.com
AUG 28, 2023 2:52 PM
Throughout his time in Pittsburgh, Pat Narduzzi has made it clear that he loves to compete.
Since accepting Pitt’s head coaching job in 2015, Narduzzi and the Panthers have had the chance to partake in numerous notable competitions. But Pitt’s next contest comes with a unique dynamic that Narduzzi has yet to encounter.
On Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Narduzzi’s team will open its 2023 season against Wofford. Standing across from Narduzzi on the away team sideline at Acrisure Stadium will be Terriers coach Shawn Watson, who in 2017 and 2018 served as Narduzzi’s offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh.
“I think it’s no different than playing against someone that you know,” Narduzzi said when asked about the dynamic that exists between him and Watson on Monday afternoon at his team’s facility. “Whether they worked under you or worked with you, I don’t know if that matters. … You never want to see anybody lose, especially your friends. But you never want to get beat by your friends.”
Pitt’s Athletic director, Heather Lyke, speaks during Pitt’s Kick-Off Luncheon at The Westin on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023, in Pittsburgh.
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Narduzzi’s friendship with Watson started in the early 1990’s when they worked together at Miami (Ohio). Narduzzi, who was originally hired at Miami as a graduate assistant in 1990, said Watson helped him land the position. That favor was returned by Narduzzi in 2017, when he hired Watson to replace Matt Canada as his team’s offensive coordinator.
While many years have gone by since Watson’s departure in 2018, Narduzzi said Monday that he notices Watson’s influence when watching film on Wofford’s offense.
“With all the 12-personnel, all the outside zone and inside zone, or the ‘wide zone,’ as he would call it, you certainly see all the same stuff,” Narduzzi said. “You don’t see as much jet sweep stuff.”
Narduzzi also acknowledged that in return, Watson should be more than familiar with Pitt’s defensive scheme. However, Narduzzi pointed out that in the end, familiarity will only go so far.
“He knows what we like to do, but he’s still gotta stop it,” Narduzzi said. “As coach [Frank] Cignetti says, ‘Anyone who has played against us for eight seasons knows.’ I think we’re simple enough on defense that people know what we do. It’s a matter of making plays.”
Watson assumed interim head coaching duties at Wofford midway through the 2022 season after the team started 0-5. Under Watson’s guidance, the Terriers won three of their final six games, which led to him being promoted from interim to head coach.
Depth chart released
Head coach Pat Narduzzi watches quarterback Phil Jurkovec (5), center, practice with the offense during Pitt football’s first day of camp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023.
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With training camp now in the rearview mirror Pitt released its first two-deep depth chart for the 2023 season, Monday afternoon. Here are the highlights:
Offense
Quarterbacks: A pair of transfers hold the top two spots, as Phil Jurkovec was named the starter and Christian Veilleux was named the backup.
Running backs: Rodney Hammond Jr. is the starter, with redshirt seniors C’Bo Flemister and Daniel Carter sharing the second spot. LSU transfer and former Gateway High School star Derrick Davis was fourth.
Wide receivers: Florida transfer Daejon Reynolds was named the team’s third starter, behind Bub Means and Konata Mumpfield. True freshmen Kenny Johnson and Zion Fowler-El were both listed as primary backups, as was redshirt junior Jake McConnachie.
Tight end: Gavin Bartholomew returns as the starter while Karter Johnson and USC transfer Malcolm Epps are listed as equal reserves.
Offensive line: All-ACC preseason tackle Matt Goncalves gets the start at left tackle, while Branson Taylor earns the right tackle job. Redshirt seniors Jason Collier and Blake Zubovic are starting at left and right guard, respectively, while Jake Kradel was named the starting center. Redshirt freshman Ryan Baer, who has been seeing first team reps at both guard and tackle, was listed as the first backup at left tackle.
Defense
Defensive line: Sixth-year seniors David Green, Devin Danielson and Tyler Bentley, along with redshirt senior Deandre Jules are listed for the four primary members of Pitt’s defensive tackle rotation. Redshirt seniors Dayon Hayes and Nate Temple both enter Week 1 as the starting defensive ends. Redshirt sophomore Nahki Johnson and redshirt senior Bam Brima are the next two defensive ends in line.
Linebacker: As expected, sixth-year senior Shayne Simon moves into the Mike linebacker spot, which was held last year by SirVocea Dennis. Bangally Kamara moves from Star to Money linebacker and Solomon DeShields earns Kamara’s former spot at Star. Redshirt senior Brandon George is listed as the primary backup behind Simon but will likely be the first reserve for all three positions.
Cornerback: M.J. Devonshire earns the nod as the team’s top cornerback option, while veterans Marquis Williams and A.J. Woods share split duties for the other starting spot. Redshirt freshman Ryland Gandy is the next man in line.
Safety: Javon McIntyre and Phillip O’Brien Jr. earn the starting spots at boundary and field safety. Donovan McMillon, a Florida transfer, is McIntyre’s backup while Stephon Hall will back up O’Brien. All four safeties received first team reps at both spots throughout training camp.
Special teams
Kicking & punting: Ben Sauls will once again start at kicker for both kickoff and field goals, while Caleb Junko will start at punter. Byron Floyd and Cameron Guess return to their starting positions at long snapper and holder.
Return game: Devonshire once again will be deep to return punts for the Panthers. Means is listed as the top kick return option for Pitt, with Woods and redshirt freshman receiver Che Nwabuko next in line.
Jacoby out for the season
Narduzzi informed reporters last week that his team had one player experience a season ending injury. He revealed Monday that the player was redshirt senior Ryan Jacoby.
“Ryan got hurt mid-camp,” Narduzzi said. “Not in a live situation, not in a thud situation, but in an individual situation. We’re gonna miss him. He was having a heck of a fall camp.”
Three walk-ons earn scholarships
Throughout the last week of camp, Pitt informed three walk-on players that they are now on scholarship. Those three players were Junko, McConnachie and redshirt sophomore linebacker Nick Lapi.
“Those were three guys that we had targeted going in,” Narduzzi said. “They had to go out and earn it, and all three of them did what we expected them to do.”

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