Heading into Pitt’s matchup with Wake Forest, the focus was firmly fixed on Panthers running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, as Ollison entered the game with 1,054 rushing yards on the season and Hall was in the hunt for a 1,000-yard year himself, with 844 yards of his own. On top of that, Wake Forest was set to field the 101st-ranked rushing defense in the country.
However, despite the apparent mismatch, the Demon Deacons arrived at Groves Stadium as fixated on the Pitt running backs as the rest of the nation and proved equal to the task of shutting them down. But what the Wake Forest defense was not prepared for was Pickett, who had been quiet for most of the season, to play the best game of his collegiate career.
That oversight proved costly, as the sophomore went off for a career-high 316 yards and three touchdowns while completing 77 percent of his 30 passes on the day, leading Pitt to its first ACC Coastal title in the process.
Pickett was joined in his effort by receivers Maurice Ffrench and Rafael Araujo-Lopes, who each had one touchdown and 70-plus yards on six catches. And Taysir Mack was his top receiver, with a career-high 105 yards and a touchdown on three catches.
After the game, Pickett discussed Pitt’s shift to a pass-heavy offense against Wake Forest.
“Every week’s a different week, so you don’t know what a defense is going to give you,” Pickett said during a postgame interview. “It’s just kind of how the chips fell this week. We had to throw it a little bit, and we made some plays. And we were explosive like I said we were going to be all year, and we’re clicking right now. We’ve just got to keep the momentum going.”
While Pickett’s performance on Saturday seemed to come out of nowhere, that’s actually not the case, as he has been improving steadily during the emergence of the team’s dominant running game. In fact, over the last five games, Pickett has played largely mistake-free football, throwing for six touchdowns against zero interceptions. He’s also contributed to the rushing attack, as he accounted for 76 yards and a touchdown against Duke and 58 yards against Virginia Tech.
Of course, the Demon Deacons’ shutdown of the Panthers’ elite running backs begs questions about Pitt’s game plan for Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. But with Pickett putting on Pitt’s best passing performance since Nathan Peterman toppled Clemson two years ago with a 308-yard outing, it seems the Panthers now have an alternative to their backfield attack.