PITTSBURGH — Kenny Pickett came into the 2018 season as one of Pitt’s most exciting quarterback prospects in a long time after he finished the 2017 season with an upset victory over then-No. 2 Miami.
But Saturday night at Heinz Field, in Pitt’s 51-6 loss to Penn State, Pickett looked a lot more like a quarterback making his third collegiate start than an the giant-killer that had shown up the year before.
Pickett is a confident, competitive player, and the task at hand for him and the rest of the Panthers this week will be moving on from the ugly performance against the Nittany Lions and getting prepared both mentally and emotionally to start ACC play against Georgia Tech this Saturday.
Pickett is only a true sophomore at 20 years old, but typically displays a poise and mental maturity beyond his years.
But how will he handle the first real adversity he’s received in his collegiate career? That’s a question that remains unanswered to this point, but Pickett has a pretty solid support system in place at Pitt in the form of five fifth-year senior starters on offense that can make sure he’s staying on the right path.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes said Pickett has handled himself “like a professional.”
“He’s taken every rep, every day, he’s been locked into everything and taken coaching points from coach [Shawn] Watson,” Araujo-Lopes said Wednesday.
Araujo-Lopes and the other seniors didn’t even have to say anything to his young single caller to keep him on the right track.
“He didn’t get down,” Araujo-Lopes said. “He was still confident with his chin up, so I didn’t really speak to him too much. I watched his demeanor, but he handled it well.”
Pickett is well aware that as the team’s quarterback, he has the opportunity to re-set the emotional mindset of the team following a tough loss.
“It starts with me first,” he said. “Correct things that I need to correct and then help everybody as a unit. Go to the line and figure out what went wrong, go to the receivers, the running backs and work down the line from there. We’ve moved past in and we’ve had a really good two days of practice heading into Georgia Tech.”
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is pleased with the way his quarterback has responded to this point, but emphasized that it’s just been to this point. The real test as to whether or not Pickett has been able to lead the Panthers past the emotional loss to Penn State will come when they step back onto the grass at Heinz Field this Saturday.
“We won’t know till Saturday,” Narduzzi said. “Kenny is the same dude in practice every day. Kenny is a competitor. Kenny just has to not put everything on his shoulders. … I don’t see anything now. What I see on a Tuesday and Wednesday is exactly the same every week. You’re going to get detail out of him. When the lights turn on, I tell you guys all the time about practicing in Heinz Field, what happens when the lights go on. He started three games. He’s still a puppy. He’s not a veteran quarterback.”
Narduzzi does think that Pickett possesses the mental elements that are required to complete the task.
“He’s a smart guy. He doesn’t ignore what happened,” Narduzzi said. “He knows he tries to put it all on his shoulders. He internalized it, tried to think he got to do it all. He’s got other guys out there that have to do their job. He has to trust them. He can’t do it all. There’s no quarterback, I don’t care Joe Montana, none of them can do it by themselves. Certainly he can’t, as well.
“It was a great learning experience for him. I think we’ve all learned from a lot of mistakes we had as coaches and players. The key is to come back from it. I have no doubts that Kenny is going to come back from it and be better for it, too.”
What Narduzzi is talking about is Pickett’s propensity to try to run from the pocket and make plays with his legs instead of going through his reads and making check downs when his primary options aren’t open. It was something that was glaring when going through the game tape of the Penn State game. Pickett says he has taken that lesson to heart.
“I just got back this week to doing my job, staying in my lane and not trying to do too much,” he said. “I had a really good two days (of practice) and we’re going to carry it into this week.”