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What to look for at the Blue-Gold spring football game

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The upcoming Blue-Gold spring football game brings plenty of excitement for Pitt football fans. After a disastrous 3-9 season in the 2023 season, the Panthers had a series of coaching and roster changes to redress the balance and return to bowl season. Here are some of the key things to look out for in the Blue and Gold game.

Offensive with a new look

The PanthersThe biggest reason for the poor 2023 season was poor offensive play. To remedy the situation, head coach Pat Narduzzi fired offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and replaced him with Western Carolina offensive coordinator Kade Bell.

During Bell's tenure at WCU, the Catamounts consistently finished at the top of the FCS offensively, including a division-best 501 yards per game and fourth-best 37 points per game last season.

Bell said during his opening statement that his offense “plays fast and scores even faster.” The Panthers' new offense is set to bring sparkle and excitement to the North Shore this season, and the spring game offers Pitt fans the first chance to see it live.

In addition to a new system, the Panthers added numerous skill players to fill the roster remaining in the offseason. Pitt added Raphael “Poppi” Williams at wide receiver and Desmond Reid at running back. Both players had previously played under Kade Bell at WCU and both had received conference and national honors for their performances.

With new and returning pieces for Bell to work with this season, the game should provide an interesting first look at the team and provide some clarity for fans eagerly awaiting to see the Panthers play in the fall.

Quarterback competition

Another factor in the Panthers' struggles in 2023 was inconsistency at quarterback. Narduzzi benched fifth-year senior Phil Jurkovec after a series of abysmal performances early in the season.

The starting job then went to Penn State transfer Christian Veilleux, and while he played a key role in the stunning upset over No. 13 Louisville, Veilleux underwhelmed in the subsequent contests. After Veilleux's injury in the Notre Dame loss, the reins went to Nate Yarnell, who impressed in his starts against Boston College and Duke.

Yarnell was given the starting role before spring camp and will likely assume the starting role during spring play. Most of the discussion will revolve around the QB2 competition between Veilleux and Alabama transfer Eli Holstein.

A four-star recruit coming out of high school, Holstein was one of the most sought-after prospects in the country. While he didn't see any game action for the Crimson Tide, his talent and experience under the Nick Saban system should serve him well and make for some interesting competition during the spring game and next summer.

While Yarnell looks like he could take over the starting role, impressive performances from Veilleux or Holstein could muddy the waters and lead to a change once August 31 rolls around.

Revamped defense

The Panthers defense saw a lot of departures at all three levels this offseason. Narduzzi and his team had to make many changes to prepare for the season. Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge will be off the sidelines for the first time since 2016. A defense already coming off a shaky 2023 season will need a tremendous effort from its returning veterans and offseason additions to improve.

In the transfer portal, the Panthers selected talented players who could make an impact. Ohio linebacker Keye Thompson, Nebraska defensive back Tamon Lynum, defensive linemen Nate Matlack, Lyndon Cooper and Nick James could prove to be solid backups.

While it's rare for first-year recruits to make an immediate impact in college football, Francis Brewu, Sincere Edwards, Jahsear Whittington and Cameron Lindsey headline a solid defensive recruiting class.

Overall, this year’s spring game is significant for the program. Fans have a chance to see what the team looks like after a down year. Coaches get the chance to make the right moves and get the team back into a winning position.

New players will have a chance to shine and establish their place on the depth chart. With all the intrigue and talent on display, the Blue and Gold game should provide some exciting moments for everyone involved.