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Five Questions at Five for Alan Saunders



It’s a homecoming week mailbag as the Panthers get set to host No. 20 NC State on Saturday. They’ll be wearing their gorgeous-looking throwback duds, the forecast is supposed to be beautiful with a high of 79 degrees and Pitt’s threadbare bowl hopes are going to get a serious workout in the form of the Wolfpack.

With so much at stake and so much news in the program this week, it was a bumper crop of big-picture questions for this week’s Friday Five Questions at Five. Let’s dive in.

@TheWillardYears: How many snaps does (freshman QB Kenny) Pickett get tomorrow?

If the game remains close throughout and Ben DiNucci plays well, I could see Pickett not getting into the game at all. Pat Narduzzi said he wants to get Pickett some looks, but he also desperately needs to win this game if Pitt wants to finish 6-6 or better. In my opinion, DiNucci will have to falter or the game will have to get out of hand for Pickett to see anything other than a token series.

@UCFPanther: Is the lack of running game the OL not creating holes or the RB not seeing what’s there?

It has to be a little bit of both. A lot of the talk around the success of Jordan Whitehead rushing the ball this week was whether the line was blocking better for him or if he’s just a better runner than the other backs.

I think it’s a combination of the two, and also the fact that Whitehead is running the simplest play there is to block in the Panthers’ scheme — outside zone — and using his speed and quickness in the hole to make it work. Another back — Darrin Hall comes to mind — might have just as much success as Whitehead has had in that type of package.

The issue Pitt’s been having is they aren’t getting three yards up the middle on the inside zone. Whitehead isn’t being asked to do that, and Qadree Ollison hasn’t been able to break enough tackles to make up for the lack of blocking.

I’d say the running backs (outside of Whitehead) aren’t getting to the second level quickly enough on outside runs and the line is getting dominated on inside runs.

Two more quick hitters that relate: Keep Whitehead on offense? Only if Damar Hamlin and Bricen Garner both look so good that Whitehead almost becomes an extra part on defense. I don’t see that happening just yet. Will AJ Davis ever see a real workload in a game this year? One of the reasons Ollison has played so much is that with George Aston out, he’s the only back Pitt has that can reliably pick up blitzes. With Max Browne out for the year due to a missed block by Matt Flanagan, protecting the quarterback will be of heightened importance going forward. We’ll see what transpires, but as sturdy as NC State’s defensive line is, I doubt this is the week for Davis.

@YinzerStyle: Do you think Narduzzi will ever settle on a group of 4 d-linemen to play consistently or will it continue to be a constant rotation?

I love this question because it shows you’re paying attention. Hardly anyone has talked about the rotation this year. I think it will stay until some guys step up and separate themselves as players that can’t be taken out.

My current favorite to do that might be Rashad Weaver. He’s been seriously disruptive the last three weeks and has a really high motor.

Inside, I’d expect the rotation to continue for a while.

@M_Klam3: Does (redshirt freshman Thomas) MacVittie ever start a game at QB at Pitt?

Man, this is a tough one. I could see many ways that he ends up as the starter — and even ends up succeeding. I could also see him never playing a meaningful down of football for the Panthers.

Here’s what I see as the big factors. If Pickett plays this season and plays really well, that doesn’t bode well for MacVittie, but if Pickett struggles, it’s not unreasonable to think that MacVittie could emerge as the starter from a three-way battle next fall.

If MacVittie loses that battle, he could transfer, but he’d have to lose a year of eligibility to do so. However, at that point, Ben Dinucci would probably have already graduated. So maybe DiNucci goes and MacVittie stays on with the backup spot.

He could also get utilized like Penn State uses Tommy Stevens, as a slot receiver and a wing back that can also be a backup quarterback. MacVittie is an excellent athlete and played tight end in high school.

To directly answer the question, I’d lean towards no, but I see many ways it would be possible.

Jack @Pitt_Is_Lit: Does Paris Ford leave after three years making this redshirt year pointless?

The odds of that happening seem pretty small to me. Pitt has only had about seven players in the last decade that left early for the NFL. Field safety is a tough position in this defense to master, so even when he plays next year, I don’t think you’ll be looking at an all-conference type performance. It’ll probably be more like what we’ve seen out of Garner and Hamlin this year — some flashes but also some big mistakes.

If he’s a solid starter for two seasons after that, he very well might go early. For the record, I’m usually an advocate of players doing that when it make sense, especially if they’ve already graduated. But getting to a point where it makes sense is awfully rare.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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