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Two Years Later, Things Are Different as Kenny Pickett Once Again Leads Pitt against Miami



PITTSBURGH — The first 11 games of the 2017 Pitt football season were underwhelming, to say the least. The Panthers were 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the ACC.

The lone game remaining on Pitt’s schedule was the No. 2 ranked Miami Hurricanes.

Pitt was in desperation mode, at the time. True freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett was given the keys to lead the team against the ACC front-runner, in Miami.

It was Pickett’s first regular season start of his college career and it wasn’t your ordinary first start for a freshman quarterback, by any means. Pickett led the Panthers to a 24-14 upset of the undefeated Hurricanes. Pickett completed 18 of 29 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. He also ran one in from 22 yards out for the Panthers, that sealed the deal on the final Saturday of the regular season.

Kenny Pickett (8) dives in for the touchdown November 24, 2017 — DAVID HAGUE/PSN

Two years later, Pitt (5-2, 2-1) is now the favorite at Heinz Field against Miami (3-4, 1-3). And for Pickett, he has proved himself to be a top quarterback in the conference, while leading Pitt to the top end of the ACC.

Since Pickett’s first start against Miami, Pitt has the second-best record in the ACC, behind only Clemson.

“I think that game (against Miami) was a stepping stone to get to where we want to get to,” Pickett said. “Now I think the whole program is working toward that one goal (of winning a championship).”

Pickett’s work ethic and hard nosed mindset has transformed him and his talents as a quarterback of this team.

“I think he’s a lot more confident in the passing game,” Narduzzi said. “A year ago, we we’re a run football team and didn’t throw the ball very well — He’s obviously a lot better at throwing the ball, right now.”

His growth over the past year, not only as a passer, but a leader for his football team has been evident to his head coach.

“His first start was against Miami — where we beat the No. 2 team in the country,” Narduzzi said. “Then, he starts the entire (next) year and he’s able to lead our offense to the ACC championship game, for the first time ever — And now he’s off to a good start (this year), so far, throwing the ball.”

Pickett ranks No. 3 in the ACC in passing yards per game (267), while missing a start against Delaware.

“His pocket presence is different (this year),” Narduzzi said. “And that’s a credit to (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach) Mark Whipple.”

In Whipple’s first year at Pitt, he has been the key in the evolution of Pickett as a quarterback.

“He’s a winner,” Mark Whipple said on Tuesday. “He finds a way – Guys (on his team) really respect him and I’m having a blast coaching him.”

Pickett will have his hands full on Saturday against a fast and talented Miami defense, that ranks No. 3 in the ACC in total defense.

This time around, it won’t be considered an upset if the Panthers beat Miami on their home field. … It will perhaps, be just another stepping stone in the right direction for Kenny Pickett and this Pitt football team.

Alan Saunders contributed reporting from Pittsburgh.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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