Pitt-North Carolina wrap-up: Kenny Pickett, penalties, Coastal chances | TribLIVE.com

Pitt-North Carolina wrap-up: Kenny Pickett, penalties, Coastal chances

Jerry DiPaola
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett celebrates his touchdown with Jimmy Morrissey during the second quarter against North Carolina Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, at Heinz Field.

In the aftermath of Pitt’s 34-27 overtime victory against North Carolina, so many thoughts must be on the minds of Pitt fans.

Some good, some concerning:

• The resurgence of Kenny Pickett and the introduction of a deep passing game heads the list.

• Too many penalties and Pat Narduzzi’s reaction to them.

• What the victory means in the moment as Pitt tries to repeat as Coastal champion, and how it affects the Panthers’ standing in the ACC.

1. Throwing the ball downfield can work.

Pitt came into the game averaging only 10.1 yards per completion. But the emergence of sophomore wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis, perhaps a weakness in North Carolina’s secondary and Mark Whipple’s correct insistence to lean on the passing game give Pitt a dimension it has lacked since Tyler Boyd left for the NFL.

Pickett completed 25 of 41 passes for 359 yards, marking his sixth game with at least that many successful throws. He surpassed 300 yards for the third time.

For the season, Pitt’s quarterbacks, including Nick Patti in the Delaware game, have amassed 2,601 yards through the air. That’s better than Boyd’s last two years at Pitt and a 31% improvement over 2018, a season that led to Whipple’s hiring.

The biggest difference, though, is what it means going forward. Pickett came into the game averaging 9.9 yards per completion, but it was 14.4 against the Tar Heels.

Narduzzi wanted to send the message the deep throws were nothing more than a strategic reaction to the Tar Heels secondary, not something the next opponent should expect.

“We take what they give us,” he said.

Added Pickett, referencing the 74-yard touchdown to Jacques-Louis: “We liked what we saw on film and had opportunities to throw the post ball over the top. Really just took advantage of it, and Whip dialed it up great tonight.”

But they have TVs in Blacksburg, too, so the seed has been planted.

Speaking of play-calling, Pickett said he scored the winner in overtime on an option run Whipple hadn’t called “in a long time.”

“A look that they hadn’t seen. It was a great call and great job up front.”

One other passing game note: Pickett’s 222 completions are not far from Tino Sunseri’s record 256 in 2012 and four short of Dan Marino’s best. It stands No. 10 all-time at Pitt.

2. Pitt is averaging 8.4 penalties per game for a loss of 766 yards.

Saturday will change things, but after Thursday only three teams — Central Michigan, Florida State and Tulsa — have committed more penalties than Pitt’s 84 in 10 games. That’s after 101 last year in 14 games.

Narduzzi jabbed the ACC officials who worked Thursday’s game, not just suggesting but coming out and declaring, “We got two good wins (Thursday), and we beat everybody on the field.”

Not sure if that rises to the level of an offense that could draw a fine from the conference, but Narduzzi is unafraid to speak his mind. Give him credit for that.

There were 17 penalties marched off against both teams Thursday. It reached the point that every time there was a big play, you looked around for yellow laundry.

No matter how Narduzzi feels about the officiating, Pitt’s penalty total is something he will address with his players at the next team meeting. It could bring the team down at any time over the next two games.

3. What does it all mean?

Pitt is still a long shot to win the Coastal. It needs to win at Virginia Tech next Saturday, beat Boston College and hope the Hokies defeat Virginia.

But Pitt has won 11 of its past 15 ACC games and has the No. 2 defense in the conference, 12th in the nation (subject to change Saturday).

Its dramatic, nationally televised victory against North Carolina might draw more love from the Associated Press Top 25 voters.

Plus, winning the last two and finishing the regular season 9-3 would be Narduzzi’s best season and only the fifth nine-victory effort at Pitt in 38 years.

Get the latest news about Pitt football and all things Panthers athletics.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Pitt
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