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Pitt

Pitt's season of jockeying QBs continues

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, 7:33 p.m.
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 4,670 yards and 43 touchdowns and rushed for 873 and 17 scores as a three-year starter in high school.
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 4,670 yards and 43 touchdowns and rushed for 873 and 17 scores as a three-year starter in high school.
This photo taken Oct. 14, 2017, shows Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) playing in an NCAA football game against North Carolina State, in Pittsburgh. Pitt freshman Pickett could see playing time again on Saturday at Duke. Pickett played in the second half of a loss to N.C. State last weekend and coach Pat Narduzzi says the quarterback competition between Pickett and Ben DiNucci remains open.”(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
This photo taken Oct. 14, 2017, shows Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) playing in an NCAA football game against North Carolina State, in Pittsburgh. Pitt freshman Pickett could see playing time again on Saturday at Duke. Pickett played in the second half of a loss to N.C. State last weekend and coach Pat Narduzzi says the quarterback competition between Pickett and Ben DiNucci remains open.”(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
BLACKSBURG, VA - NOVEMBER 18: Quarterback Ben DiNucci #3 of the Pittsburgh Panthers scrambles against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the first half at Lane Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)
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BLACKSBURG, VA - NOVEMBER 18: Quarterback Ben DiNucci #3 of the Pittsburgh Panthers scrambles against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the first half at Lane Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

With any luck, 2017 will be remembered as the year Pitt found a quarterback for the future. Or, at least, made a serious attempt to do so.

Who knows how successful the search will be? It's been ongoing since Max Browne's season-ending shoulder separation Oct. 7, but, apparently, it's only beginning.

With one game remaining in the season — the chance of going to a bowl as a five-victory team is so small it isn't worth discussing — nothing is certain. Not even after Kenny Pickett threw for more yards against Virginia Tech (242) than any of the other two quarterbacks have done against a Power 5 team this season.

Sophomore Ben DiNucci and Pickett, a freshman, are listed on the current depth chart in alphabetical order with the “or” designation next to DiNucci's name.

Coach Pat Narduzzi was equally cryptic at his news conference Monday — no sense alerting No. 2 Miami so early in the week — while noting competition will continue at all positions prior to the game Friday against the undefeated Hurricanes at Heinz Field.

“Ben had a heck of a day out there today,” he said after practice Monday.

On Saturday, Pickett nearly rallied Pitt (4-7, 2-5 ACC) to a road victory at noisy Lane Stadium, where the Hokies survived 20-14 and came away with an 8-3 record and No. 24 national ranking.

Both quarterbacks threw an interception but drew praise from Narduzzi for their poise. Only DiNucci got Pitt in the end zone with his arm.

After the game, Narduzzi called Pickett “the better passer,” noting Virginia Tech's run defense was nearly impossible to penetrate, and Pitt needed an alternative.

The same thinking might be applied to the Miami defense, which isn't quite as stout against the run as Virginia Tech but nonetheless formidable. The Hurricanes are 51st in the nation, eighth in the ACC (152.4 yards per game), compared to the Hokies (24th/second/128.4).

Turnovers are what sets Miami apart, however. The 'Canes lead the nation in ratio (27 gained/11 lost).

“It's the matchup,” Narduzzi said. “How we feel we can run the football. We have to get a run game going, period.

“Play it by ear, see practice and go with that way. I think if we don't practice (well), it's hard to start a guy that doesn't practice (well).”

In a perfect world, of course, the coach picks one quarterback and has enough trust in him not to make a switch as quickly as Narduzzi did Saturday (after the first quarter).

Narduzzi either wasn't ready to talk about that possibility Monday, or he hasn't made up his mind.

“Still trying to gain (trust), and it's competition,” he said. “When is the time? I don't know. We'll find out.”

Narduzzi said he was pleased with Pickett, who completed 15 of 23 passes when he wasn't getting sacked four times.

“Kenny threw the ball well, which we thought he could, but you never know in a game,” Narduzzi said. “He just gave us a chance.”

One of the incompletions was Jester Weah's drop two snaps before his 74-yard catch-and-run.

“(Pickett) puts it right there on Jester's hands,” Narduzzi said, “and we can't pull it down, which might have been another 15-, 20-yard gain, which then, when you hit the next one, it's going to be in the end zone.

“Even his interception, just got to put a little more air on it … just got to get it up a little bit more. But it wasn't a desperation. It wasn't just slinging it down the field.

“He made the right read and just (needed) a little bit better ball placement.

“And with time those things are going to be fixed.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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