Pitt and Penn State met in the 100th and perhaps final installment of their intrastate rivalry at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, and the result was a tough 17-10 loss for Pitt. However, the Panthers benefited from the solid play of Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, who threw for a career-high 372 yards in the game and completed 68.6 percent of his passes.
Saturday marked the second game in a row that Pickett set a new personal best, as he threw for 321 yards and a touchdown while completing 70.3 percent of his passes against Ohio last week. That also represented a career high at the time, and prior to that game, Pickett had amassed 200 or more passing yards just two times in 19 games at the collegiate level.
Of course, Pickett did not figure into the plans of former Pitt offensive coordinator Shawn Watson as significantly as he seems to figure into the plans of Mark Whipple, and the difference in his usage has been immense. Specifically, Pickett threw the ball 63 times through the first three games of the 2018 season. This season, in the same number of games, he has 129 pass attempts.
Pickett’s performance against Penn State also addressed a lingering concern about his ability to play well in big games, as he had a number of subpar stat lines against high-level opponents in 2018, including Clemson, Virginia and, of course, Penn State. But this time around, he did not buckle under the pressure and instead appeared poised and decisive despite the hostile environment.
While the result of Saturday’s tilt was a loss, Pickett’s emergence as a more mature and able quarterback is a major development for the program that points to significant progress at a key position. It also suggests that the Whipple hire is having a positive effect on Pitt’s offense in a transitional year in which the team is adapting to life without Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. However, there is still room for improvement for both Pickett and Whipple, as the team has struggled to put points on the board despite moving the ball well.
Pitt is currently averaging 17 points per game, with its biggest offensive showing of the year coming in a 20-10 win over Ohio. Pickett and Whipple will try to remedy that issue next week against UCF, but they may run into some issues on that front, as the Knights have allowed just seven points per game this season.