The Pitt football team that many people expected to see this season showed up and dominated a good ACC team from the opening snap on Saturday in the Panthers’ 47-14 win over Virginia Tech.
The most encouraging aspect of the game was seeing all three units for Pitt turning in performances that were well above the line. The offense, which looked as efficient as they have all season, collected over 500 total yards and finally controlled an opposing team at the line of scrimmage. For the second straight week, the Panthers defense held an opposing team scoreless in the second half and senior kicker Alex Kessman was perfect, including two 50 yard field goal attempts.
Pitt’s Senior Day provided some many memories and storylines but here are five aspects that stood out as Pitt moved to 5-4 on the season.
WIDE RECEIVER ROOM LOAD IS LOADED:
Prior to this season, Pitt’s group of wide receivers were just OK. While they weren’t bad, but by no means did they scare opposing defenses or have multiple guys that could take the top off the defense. Thanks to the recent recruiting efforts of the Panthers staff, that’s all changed and its wide receiver room is as deep and talented as it’s been in many, many years and the future is bright.
Whomever the quarterback is in 2021, they’ll have the luxury of throwing to a group of players that should make their jobs a whole lot easier. Freshman Jordan Addison has lived up to all the preseason hype and from the first game against Austin Peay, has been Pitt’s wide offensive weapon. He’s shown the ability to make any type of catch, is nearly impossible to guard one-on-one and the scary part is that he’s just in his first season. Addison sure looks like a player that will eventually leave school early in order to showcase his skills in the NFL.
One of the bright spots from Saturday was the coming out party for Jaylon Barden, another true freshman wide receiver. The four-star recruit from Georgia has waited patiently for his opportunity and didn’t disappoint when receiving it against the Hokies. With Addison and Jared Wayne sidelined, Barden received his most playing time of the season and finished with five catches for 65 yards and his first college touchdown. Believe it or not, Barden might be Pitt’s most complete and dangerous receiver because of his precise route running, the reliability of his hands and the fact that he’s Pitt fastest receiver in terms of straight line speed.
First TD for Jaylon Barden! 🙌@kennypickett10 x @BardenJaylon
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) November 21, 2020
Good luck to opposing defenses trying to stop Pitt next year with Addison, Barden, Shocky Jacques-Louis, Wayne and perhaps Taysir Mack, along with highly regarded 2020 recruit Aydin Henningham and two wideouts in their 2021 class that could be instant impact players in Myles Alston and Jayden Bradley.
OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH DISCOVERED?
Prior to Saturday, one of the bigger area of concerns for Pitt has to have been the future of their offensive lineman. Despite having over a year of playing together, the starting unit never seemed to gel and were a factor in the teams’ inability to sustain any sort of running attack.
Some people wondered why Pat Narduzzi and Dave Borbely didn’t make a change and give one of the younger players a chance to show something. That happened Saturday but only because Carter Warren, Gabe Houy and Jake Kradel were forced to sit because of COVID-19 protocols.
It’s only one game but the addition of Carson Van Lynn, Blake Zubovic and Matt Goncalves performed more than just OK as the offensive line turned in their best effort of the season. The unit provided Pickett with plenty of time to pass the ball and provided a surge off the ball and created holes for their running backs to run for over 150 yards.
Does this mean that Pitt has a new starting offensive line? I’d highly doubt that considering the loyalty that Narduzzi shows to his upperclassman but it give the coaching staff tangible proof that they have more options than maybe they realized heading into the future. Goncalves is only a freshman with a monster frame (6-foot-6, 315 pounds) that could force his way into the lineup and Zubovic (6-foot-4, 320 pounds) looks like a prototype at offensive guard with Bryce Hargrove expected to move on.
HAMLIN IS A SPECIAL PLAYER:
A young player receiving high expectations are sometimes hard to live up to and no player on the field yesterday joined the Panther program with more than Damar Hamlin. From the moment he decided to surprise many people and choose to play stay home, the former Central Catholic star has played under the microscope.
— 𝐃𝐚𝐦𝐚𝐫 𝐇𝐚𝐦𝐥𝐢𝐧 (@HamlinIsland) December 1, 2019
To his credit and because of the upbringing he received from his parents, Hamlin has handled everything that’s happened to him at Pitt with class and has been someone that Narduzzi could count on to be a rock for his program. Despite battling through injuries early on in his career that impacted his play, Hamlin fought through those and has turned himself into a NFL Draft prospect. More importantly, he was the first local star that choose to turn down the offers from the more visible programs and trust that he can achieve his ultimate goal of playing at the next level by getting prepared at Pitt.
Hamlin was someone that Narduzzi could count on to be a leader on and off the field which was important and unusual considering what he see from stars at other programs. Hamlin was a rock for Pitt and should be considered that and always remembered as a Pitt great.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that in his final home game, Hamlin was the best defensive player on the field, which is a fitting way to go out.
PICKETT SETS GREAT EXAMPLE:
Aside from possibly Patrick Jones, no Pitt player has improved their profile and improved more over their time in a Pitt uniform than Kenny Pickett.
After originally committing to play for Temple, Pickett de-committed and instead signed with the Panthers, which turned out to be great decision because he’s worked his way not only into becoming a player that could get drafted but into someone that could have a longer career on an NFL roster.
Pickett didn’t listen to the early criticism that all quarterbacks receive and just continued to work and get better, which he undoubtedly did. The only goal he had was to work to turn himself into an NFL prospect and despite having to work with multiple offensive coordinators that didn’t highlight his strengths and not always being surrounded by the best talent, Pickett kept his mouth shut, didn’t complain and worked as hard as anyone in the Pitt program.
99-YARD TD DRIVE 🙌
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) November 21, 2020
By the end of his career, people that follow the Pitt program finally recognized how valuable he was to this team and how much better they were when he was under center. Pickett first game at quarterback was a memorable one against a ranked Miami team and it’s only fitting he ended his career at Heinz Field with a career performance and being the best player on the field.
An definite argument can be made that Pickett is Pitt’s best quarterback since Alex Van Pelt.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN?
Not to rain on the parade and all the positive vibes going around, but you can’t help but wonder what this season could have and should have been. Pitt currently sits with a record of 5-4 with games remaining against Clemson and Georgia Tech.
In all likelihood, the Panthers will finish the season 6-5 and honestly that will be disappointing, considering the amount of NFL and young talent that sits on this roster. Pitt will next 2021 without Pickett, Jimmy Morrissey, Patrick Jones II, Rashad Weaver, Jaylen Twyman, Paris Ford, Hamlin, Jason Pinnock and others. It sure looks like this was a missed opportunity to post a season with eight or nine wins.
Boston College and NC State were games that Pitt should have been won, which would’ve given them seven wins instead of five. Despite what they’re ranked, I view Miami as a game that Pitt could have won and maybe would have won with Pickett in the lineup.
Changing Boston College, NC State and Miami to the win column and getting the job done in a couple of weeks against Georgia Tech, would’ve put Pitt at nine wins instead of six. Going into the offseason with a record of 9-2 would have a lot different feel than 6-5.
Unfortunately, we’re going to remember this season as a “what could have been” type of season.