Pitt QB Pickett has Grown up Since First Start vs. Wolfpack

Brett Friedlander

Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi has a vivid memory of the last time his team played NC State.

It was Oct. 14, 2017 and the 20th-ranked Wolfpack had its way with the Panthers, winning 35-17.

"Yeah, I remember they're really athletic," Narduzzi said. "I mean, they had a lot of guys drafted off that football team. I think if you count them up and put them in the NFL right now, they were a really talented football team. We ran into a buzzsaw. They're talented now, but they were really .. you know,"

Actually, besides Narduzzi and his State counterpart Dave Doeren, there aren't many others on either team that know much about that matchup four years ago. In fact, only one player that made a significant contribution is still be in uniform for Saturday's rematch at Heinz Field.

And even he's not the same player he was.

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett was a true freshman seeing his first significant college action the last time he faced State. This time, he's the confident veteran leader of an undefeated team ranked 24th in the nation.

"What I remember is him scrambling for his life in that game because they thought they had a freshman quarterback there and he did a pretty good job under pressure." Narduzzi said during his regular weekly press conference Monday. "But he was scrambling for his life. They were blitzing. They were blitzing about every down just trying to see if they could rattle a freshman quarterback."

Times certainly have changed since then.

Pickett, who was 5 of 13 for 61 yards in relief of starter Ben DiNucci in his debut, doesn't have to run around as much these days behind a talented offensive line anchored by preseason All-ACC center Jimmy Morrisey. And it's allowed him to evolve into a Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award candidate.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior has completed 66 percent of his passes for 712 yards and five touchdowns through the first three games this season. He's also rushed for a pair of scores while leading the Panthers to wins against Austin Peay, Syracuse and Louisville.

"I'm sure he's a heck of a lot better right now," Narduzzi said. "If you go back and watch that tape compared to where he is now, he's learned a ton. Not just from one game, but the only way you get experience as a quarterback is to get those game reps and be put under the fire. He was under fire."

This time around, it's State's quarterbacks that are going through the growing pains.

As a result, Narduzzi said he's spending more time this week scouting offensive coordinator Tim Beck than either Devin Leary or Bailey Hockman.

"We know they're athletic," he said. "I know 2017 when they came here they beat us, and I haven't forgotten that game. I went and watched that game late last night, and have worked the Wake Forest and Virginia Tech games this morning. I'm watching a lot of Texas tape. Obviously that's where their coordinator came from, we'll watch a lot of Texas stuff."

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