When Kenny Pickett opted out of the Peach Bowl, the expectation was that backup Nick Patti would fill the void for Pitt and earn his first start since his freshman season.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi confirmed Wednesday morning that Patti will start for Pitt against No. 10 Michigan State in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 30. And he fully believes in Patti’s opportunity to run the Pitt offense without any restrictions.
“Nick is a guy this entire room trusts,” Narduzzi said. “He’s a good football player, he can throw the ball. I think in his one other start, he threw the ball 40 times, so he’s a guy who can throw the ball. We’re excited to what Nick – it’s his time and his game to show everybody, show Panther Nation, who he is. And he’s locked in.”
Patti has been throwing with the Pitt wide receivers since Pitt’s finals week earlier this month, spending the time away from practice to build some rapport with his receiving corps ahead of the bowl game. Narduzzi said Patti has already earned the respect of his teammates and expects Patti to be able to run Pitt’s offense.
“No, it doesn’t (change the game plan),” Narduzzi said. “It doesn’t change much at all. We do what we do. We got a Biletnikoff guy out there, and we’re going to get him the ball. It doesn’t change much. We’re not going to go out there and run option, we’re not gonna go out and do that. We know what we’re doing.”
With Patti running the offense at practice of late, Narduzzi said it’s been smooth. As smooth as it’s been all season — if not more.
“We trust (Patti) just like we trust No. 8,” offensive lineman Marcus Minor said. “We’re excited for his play. It’s gonna be a big one for him, I know he’s excited. He’s been pushing us just like 8 has, so they’re very similar in play. And we’re just excited for him to go out and ball.”
Patti has been waiting for the opportunity for a while, playing sparingly behind Pickett this season to the tune of 140 yards on 12-of-14 passing attempts, and with USC transfer Kedon Slovis signing with Pitt Tuesday night, Narduzzi just wants Patti to play and not worry about background noise. Patti is the guy right now, Narduzzi said, and he deserves to be.
“It’s a great opportunity for him,” Narduzzi said. “And I don’t want him to stress about (Slovis’s arrival) either. He just needs to go out and play. He’s been as locked in as anybody … he’s prepared for this moment for a long time.”
Faced with an opportunity against the weakest pass defense in the FBS, Patti will get to showcase his ability with all of Pitt’s weapons — Narduzzi said he hasn’t heard of any other opt-outs — on a national stage. And while Pickett won’t be on the field, he will still be around.
Narduzzi said Pickett will be wearing a headset, one without speaking capabilities, so he’ll be able to listen throughout the game. But he won’t be able to communicate with anyone on the field.
“He can’t talk to (Patti),” Narduzzi said. “… He’s not able to talk on the headset to anybody else, but he’ll communicate otherwise. Like, ‘Hey, tell him this.’”
So, while Pickett won’t be playing, he’ll still be able to watch Patti from the booth.
While Narduzzi still hasn’t announced Pitt’s interim offensive coordinator yet, with that decision coming next week, Pitt’s offense will run the same as it has all season with Patti under center. The Peach Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 30 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia at 7 p.m.