Pitt earned its first win of the 2019 season on Saturday, as it defeated Ohio 20-10 at Heinz Field, and a key contributor to the winning effort was Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett.
The junior signal-caller was coming off a shaky 2019 debut against Virginia but acquitted himself well against the Bobcats, throwing for a touchdown and a career-high 321 yards. The win also ended a four-game losing streak for Pitt that dated back to Nov. 24, 2018.
”We made some major improvements from Week 1 to Week 2,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said during his postgame press conference. “I thought Kenny did a heck of a job throwing the ball. I thought his feet were good in the pocket. ... I’m happy for Kenny. I’m happy for the football team that we got a win. We’ve still got a ways to go.”
Pickett was a lightning rod for criticism in the aftermath of Pitt’s 30-14 loss to Virginia, as he appeared panicked and unprepared at times during the season opener. That led to several sacks and interceptions, and the young quarterback’s mistakes seemed to compound themselves as the game wore on.
However, there was plenty of blame to go around, as the Panthers offensive line allowed the Cavaliers defense to pressure Pickett on 44.2 percent of his dropbacks. In addition, Pitt’s receivers had multiple drops.
As a result of last week’s performance, there was pressure on Pickett to prove himself against Ohio, and he did just that. In fact, barring his star-making effort against Miami in 2017, this was arguably his best game under center at Pitt, as he completed 70.3 percent of his passes, found ways to effectively utilize eight different receivers, and didn’t allow errors to compound and spin out of control.
Notably, he connected with Pitt tight ends Will Gragg and Nakia Griffin-Stewart on several short passes, and that proved to be a winning strategy, as they rumbled past defenders for first downs. It also made for an odd but promising sight, as Pitt rarely utilized its tight ends under former Panthers offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.
The tight end duo of Gragg and Griffin-Stewart accounted for seven receptions and 60 yards on Saturday. Last season, Pitt’s tight end group had 10 receptions for 69 yards total.
Pickett also got a big performance out of Pitt wide receiver Maurice Ffrench, who reeled in 10 receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown, and he benefited from a more balanced offensive attack, as Pitt running backs A.J. Davis and Vincent Davis combined for 139 rushing yards and another touchdown.
With that said, the knock on Pickett’s performance is that it came against Ohio, so questions remain as to whether or not he will be able to replicate the effort against higher-level opponents. However, those questions will be answered in one week, as Pickett will lead Pitt into Happy Valley to face Penn State.