Can “U” say upset? The Pitt Panthers (5-7, 3-5 ACC) can after a season-salvaging 24-14 victory over the No. 2 Miami Hurricanes (10-1, 7-1 ACC), a team that was the second best team in the country going in.
After what has been a circus at quarterback for the entire season, the Panthers went into today’s final contest of the season with true freshman Kenny Pickett calling the shots on offense. He replaced a struggling Ben DiNucci after DiNucci replaced Max Browne following his season-ending shoulder injury. It’s been quite a Merry Go-Round but it seems Pitt has found their quarterback of the future in Pickett.
As the first true freshman quarterback to start at Pitt in a decade, Pickett confidently stepped in and faced a scary Miami defense right in the eyes as he tossed for 193 yards on 19-29 passing and added two rushing scores (and a shovel pass to running back Quadree Ollison) for a Panthers team that treated this like a bowl game.
“I have an unbelievable amount of confidence in myself,” Pickett said. “I walked on the field feeling like I’m the best player there so that is kind of my mindset going into next year.”
The kid doesn’t lack confidence and it is hard to blame him after his scintillating performance at Heinz Field Friday afternoon.
Facing a fourth down and attempting to hold a 17-7 lead, head coach Pat Narduzzi elected to keep his offense on the field and try and get a first down knowing that had they not converted, they would’ve forced the Hurricanes to drive almost 80 yards to scored. Pickett didn’t settle for a first down.
After a fake handoff, Pickett handed it off and rolled to his left where only about three Hurricanes players even attempted to chase him and scampered 22 yards for the game clinching touchdown.
“Shawn Watson made a great call, Kenny Pickett made a great call,” Narduzzi began. “We didn’t tell the o-line…it’s called the sucker play…heck of a play call by the offensive staff. They ran really fast over there and we ran really fast over here (the opposite way).”
Narduzzi was then asked about Pickett and whether the coaching staff believed he had that type of play in him all year.
“You know what,” Narduzzi said. “We played him in the North Carolina State game and we saw some things we needed to clean up and we had a couple weeks to clean those things up…we had some dropped passes where Kenny threw the ball where it needed to be…he’s a good young player and he’ll be here for three more years.”
Meanwhile, the defense for Pitt had been just as vital to the day’s success as Pickett’s play.
They held the number two team in the country to 14 points and a season-low 229 yards in the biggest shocker Pitt may have ever had at Heinz Field.
That goes without mentioning the play that absolutely solidified that victory when senior Avonte Maddox, playing in his final collegiate game, strip-sacked Miami quarterback Malik Rosier to solidify the victory on his last defensive snap. Dewayne Hendrix made the recovery.
“That was a big-time win and a big time sack,” Narduzzi said of Maddox who has had an up-and-down career at Pitt.
Watching Rosier miss seemingly easy throws throughout the first half led Narduzzi to essentially guarantee his Panthers would hold on in the second half. Rosier did much of the same and Narduzzi’s guarantee became true.
“It happened in West Virginia when we knocked off No. 2 West Virginia, it happened in South Carolina and it’s happening today in Pittsburgh,” Narduzzi remarked after taking a 10-7 lead to the locker room
He wasn’t wrong. His Panthers came away with a huge victory.
Jordan Kiebler, our Pitt Football lead writer, will share his thoughts on the victory later in a different story.