Pitt may have lost to NC State on Saturday, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort from Kenny Pickett. The Pitt quarterback threw for a career-high 411 yards in the 30-29 loss and scored all three of the team’s touchdowns.
“Kenny had one sack in a football game, and usually when you’ve got one sack, you’re playing pretty good,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said during his postgame press conference. “Kenny played well, threw it a bunch. He threw for 411 yards. Wasn’t enough pressure on him, I guess. ... Kenny made some great decisions with his arm and his head, and we’ll look at it. Not disappointed at all in Kenny.”
Pickett's first touchdown came on Pitt's second play of the game, when he connected with a wide-open Jordan Addison on a 75-yard bomb. He would score twice more, and both of those touchdowns came on QB sneaks.
The one knock on Pickett is that he went 22 for 39 on his pass attempts, completing 56.4 percent of his passes. That figure is down from 60.5 percent against Louisville last week and continues a troubling trend for Pickett, who started the season by completing 70.0 percent of his passes against Austin Peay and nearly matched that against Syracuse, completing 69.4 percent of his passes in that game.
Of course, Pickett's sinking completion percentage is due in part to the same drops and miscues that have plagued the Pitt passing game since the departure of Matt Canada in 2016. And as they were in 2019, it seems they will be a part of life for the Panthers once again in 2020, as the team has failed to sort the issues out four games into the season.
With that said, Pitt did get a great performance out of D.J. Turner at wide receiver, as he put the Panthers in scoring position several times and finished with 186 yards. Addison also got off to a fantastic start but left the game with an injury. But aside from those two receivers, Pickett received little in the way of help from his skill-position players on Saturday.
The running game was especially feckless, and Pickett was the only Pitt rusher who found the end zone, doing so twice. Pickett’s second rushing touchdown of the day was particularly impactful, as it put the Panthers ahead 29-24 late in the fourth quarter and looked poised to be a game-winner. However, the team was undone by a weak defensive effort with less than two minutes remaining in the game, and that allowed NC State to drive 79 yards and go ahead 30-29. The Wolfpack left less than 30 seconds on the clock for the Pitt offense, and that would not be enough for another score.
Despite the disappointing loss, the Pitt offense has actually shown improvement against non-FCS teams week in and week out this season. In fact, Saturday was the Pitt offense's best showing of 2020, aside from the 55-0 win over Austin Peay, as Pitt topped its output against Louisville by six points and bested its output against Syracuse by eight points. With that said, red-zone failures and consistency are things Pickett and the Pitt offense must work on moving forward, and the team will need its defense to return to form as well.
With Saturday’s performance in the books, Pickett now has 1,123 passing yards and 10 total touchdowns on the season. That’s his best start to a campaign through four games in his career, and that hot start has also seen him pass John Congemi on the career passing yards leaderboard at Pitt, with 6,699 yards.
Pickett and the Panthers will try to get back on track on the road next week against Boston College. The matchup will be their first away from Heinz Field this year, and the Panthers will have a favor to return to the Eagles, who dealt them an untimely home loss late last season.