If Nick Patti did one thing against UCLA, he made sure to give Ben Sauls a chance.
The stats don’t jump off the page (just under 300 yards of total offense with a touchdown and an interception) and the interception was brutal. But man, you could tell Patti wanted to win the Sun Bowl.
When it mattered most, with 34 seconds in the fourth quarter and no timeouts left, Patti was ice-cold. He hit both of his throws, picking 18 yards and then 17 more. And with 20 seconds from the UCLA 40, he decided to scramble.
If UCLA had dragged him down before the marker, the clock likely would’ve hit zero before Patti would’ve been able to spike the football.
Instead, he was flushed from the pocket, decided to take off, split two would-be UCLA tacklers and bounced across the line to gain for the biggest first down of the game.
“So, I was thinking in my head, you gotta get a first down because the clock’s gonna be running,” Patti said after the win. “So, I think I got hit short, and I had the time clock in my head, and I’m like, ‘Aw, I’m probably at eight or nine yards here, so I gotta break the tackle.’ Broke the tackle, looked up, had it by a yard.”
Patti spiked the ball with 10 seconds on the clock, Ben Sauls trotted onto the field to nail a game-winning 47-yard field goal and push Pitt to a 37-35 win. It was perfection.
“I never thought about leaving even when Kenny was gone, we brought in Kedon, I just had all the confidence in the world in myself,” Patti said. “Obviously didn’t go my way, but as you said, just stepping in a big moment today, it was great to get a win.”
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) December 31, 2022
Patti completed 20-of-41 pass attempts for 232 yards with a touchdown and a pick, and he added 72 yards on the ground. It wasn’t perfect, he made a mistake or two, but he got the job done when it mattered most.
When Patti was hit hard, especially toward the end of the first half and his helmet bounced off the turf, he missed just two plays before running back out onto the field. It was a performance that embodied the heart and soul of Pitt football — and the pure desire to win.
It was a performance that sometimes felt like was lacking at Pitt this season.
It was a performance that makes Pat Narduzzi’s seemingly blind loyalty to Kedon Slovis all season that much more of a ‘what if?’
Slovis was brought in from USC to replace Kenny Pickett. There wasn’t any doubt that he was going to start the season for Pitt against West Virginia, and to his credit, he’s a quarterback with a talented arm who just never seemed to click in Pittsburgh, but he was largely a non-factor for most of the season.
The Tennessee game, with both Slovis and Patti picking up injuries, was a near miss. But it was a good loss to the Orange Bowl champion — a team that crushed Clemson 31-14.
In losses to Georgia Tech and Louisville, Slovis didn’t make an impact. Aside from some turnovers. I don’t know what Patti would’ve done in Slovis’ shoes, and he did miss some time to injury, but in Patti’s lone start this season, Pitt rallied around him. He was a beloved teammate and leader.
Pitt didn’t need a Kenny Pickett to be successful in 2022. It was a successful season. But I can’t help but wonder what Pitt would’ve been able to accomplish with a beloved leader and savvy veteran athlete at quarterback this season either. Hindsight is 20/20, but Patti never appeared to be a consideration.
It’s a moot point now, especially after what certainly was a successful 9-4 season, but if Pitt does ride with Patti this season, who knows where the season ends up. Maybe better? Maybe worse? Maybe a few more wins?
One thing is certain though, Nick Patti — no matter how many starts he made at Pitt — embodies what it means to be a Pitt man.