I’m not making a comparison between Kenny Pickett and Nate Yarnell. Pat Narduzzi is.
But to be honest, there is a parallel. Yarnell entered this season as a redshirt freshman, who hadn’t played a meaningful snap since his junior year at Lake Travis High, and he found himself in a similar situation as a young Kenny Pickett in 2017.
Pickett, entering his true freshman season, found himself as Pitt’s No. 4 quarterback in 2017. He sat behind Max Browne, Ben DiNucci and Thomas MacVittie for most of the season. Browne went down first with an injury, and it opened the door for Pickett to beat out DiNucci and MacVittie and lead Pitt to a shock upset win over No. 2 Miami.
Pickett, obviously, would use that Miami upset as a launchpad for the best career a Pitt quarterback has ever put together. And despite the success, he still felt like he should’ve made his first start before the final game of his freshman season.
“We lost our quarterback Max Browne at Syracuse, I remember it was a dislocated shoulder,” Narduzzi said last week at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I went over and I leaned over him, and I looked down, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s out.’ And right then I said, ‘Kenny’s gotta play.’ You automatically go into decision-making mode. He’s got to play. Because I didn’t feel comfortable with who the No. 2 was at the time, I don’t even remember who he was. No disrespect to him, but I was like Kenny’s our best quarterback.
“He’d been running scout team, kinda like Nate Yarnell was. But I saw Kenny Pickett compete on the scout field like I’ve seen Nate Yarnell. He’s kinda — Nate’s a gamer. You watch him in practice, and he does some things, and you’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ But then when you put him on the scout field, he plays ball. That’s what Kenny was. He was a competitor, he took hits, he got back up and talked crap. He didn’t let the defense … ‘Oh, I’m on the scout team, the defense is gonna kill me today.’ He went down there and made plays. That’s who he is. So, we gradually got him ready because he was reading scout cards. I could’ve thrown out there. Kenny is still mad that the first game he didn’t start, which I think I could’ve ruined him.”
Yarnell entered the season as Pitt’s No. 4 quarterback behind Kedon Slovis, Nick Patti and Derek Kyler. When Slovis and Patti went down with injuries, despite a seasoned Ivy League veteran in Kyler in place as an insurance policy, Narduzzi made the decision that Yarnell needed to play against Western Michigan — to make his first college start against WMU.
It wasn’t quite the stage as Pickett’s upset over Miami, but Yarnell went into Kalamazoo, Michigan to make a night road start in his first college action. He completed 9-of-12 pass attempts for 179 yards and a touchdown, and more importantly, he also got the win.
Pickett and Yarnell both entered their first college starts coming off fourth-string quarterback duties as the scout team quarterback during practice. Only time will tell what happens during Yarnell’s time at Pitt, but he’s following in some big footsteps.
Slovis will continue to lead Pitt this season, with Patti in place as the backup, but Yarnell is still there — this season and possibly as a future starter. The last time Pitt turned to a scout team quarterback; it turned out pretty well.