Pitt went into Knoxville on Saturday and took on Tennessee in Neyland Stadium, and the team came away with a 41-34 win. The catalyst behind the victory was Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett, who put on a fearless performance in a hostile environment.
The super-senior signal-caller figured to play a key role in the outcome of the game, as the matchup pitted the fifth-year quarterback against a Volunteers secondary that ranked 106th in the nation in passing yards allowed in 2020, with 266 yards conceded per game. Tennessee also allowed 1.5 touchdowns through the air per game in 2020 and returned starters at all four positions in its defensive backfield, and Pickett was able to ring them up for all that and more, as he threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
Pickett took the better part of a quarter to get rolling, as the conservative play-calling of Panthers offensive coordinator Mark Whipple did him no favors early on. But when he was given the greenlight to cut it loose, he rose to the occasion and never looked back, marching Pitt down the field for seven scoring drives.
The first of those drives began with 4:44 left in the first and saw Pickett complete passes for gains of 10 yards or more to Jordan Addison, Lucas Krull and Taysir Mack with intermittent runs by Israel Abanikanda and Pickett himself. And appropriately, the drive culminated with an 11-yard heave from Pickett to Hawaii transfer Melquise Stovall, who escaped the coverage of Volunteers linebacker Theo Jackson and made a diving catch in Tennessee’s checkered end zone to give Pitt its first six points.
Pickett also put on a strong showing in the last of Pitt’s scoring drives, with a 40-yard completion to Jared Wayne brought on in part by missed tackles by Tennessee defenders. He also completed a 21-yard pass to Addison on the subsequent play to land Pitt in the red zone, and three plays later, he found Addison once more for a five-yard score to make it 41-27.
All told, Pickett completed 24 of his 36 pass attempts on the day for a 66.6 completion percentage and took good care of the ball, giving up zero interceptions for the second straight game this season. He also took care of business on the ground, running for first downs on several occasions and punching in Pitt’s fourth touchdown of the day on a QB sneak.
Now, two games into the 2021 season, Pickett has already amassed 557 passing yards and four touchdowns and completed 69.8 percent of his 73 pass attempts. And with Pickett throwing the ball 36.5 times per game so far this season, it appears he is in for a productive year, as he is currently on pace to set career highs in passing yards and touchdowns.