Can Kenny Pickett lead Pitt to an ACC Championship?

Pittsburgh+quarterback+Kenny+Pickett%288%29+during+during+the+second+quarter+of+the+NCAA+football+game+between+the+Clemson+Tigers+and+Pitt+Panthers+on+November+28%2C+2020%3A+at+Memorial+Stadium+in+Clemson%2C+SC.+%28Photo+by+Carl+Ackerman%29

TigerNet.com, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett(8) during during the second quarter of the NCAA football game between the Clemson Tigers and Pitt Panthers on November 28, 2020: at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, SC. (Photo by Carl Ackerman)

Matthew Scabilloni, Staff Writer

In what seems to be a wide-open year for anyone in the ACC to win the conference, the Pittsburgh Panthers have just as good a chance as anyone in the ACC. 

The main reason why Pitt has that good of a chance is Pitt’s QB Kenny Pickett, the fifth-year senior, and the current No. 27- ranked 2022 draft prospect according to CBSsports.com.

The strong-armed QB Pickett has all the tools to help Pitt make it to the ACC Championship and win. Pickett has the weapons he needs to make this happen. His WR Jordan Addison was a Freshman All-American last season and Lucas Krull won the Mackey TE of the Week during Week 3. 

Pickett has been on fire early on this season. He currently has 15 TDs, which is tied for second in the FBS and is more than he had all of last year. Don’t forget he has only played four games this season.

Addison has been on fire this season playing like a future 2023 or 2024 first-round draft pick. He is currently tied for the most in receiving TDs in the FBS this season with eight, which is double the amount he had last season.

Krull has been on fire, playing like every Pitt fan dreamed of after he transferred from Florida two years ago. He currently has four receiving TDs on the season, which is tied for second among TEs in the FBS. This is beautiful for every Pitt fan to see because Pickett has yet to play with a sure-handed TE in his entire Pitt career.

Pitt’s DL and LBs have been doing their job this season to keep Pitt in the game. They haven’t been absolutely unstoppable which is understandable since they have lost their two best pass rushers in Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver to the NFL. The LBs have struggled with some blown coverages but we will see more and more improvement as the season goes along. The DL has also struggled with not getting to the QB and stopping the run, but they still have 16 sacks through four games.

So what’s stopping Pitt from winning the ACC? The biggest problems of this team include the OL getting no push on running plays  (although their pass blocking has impressed) so the RBs have no room to run, but part of the blame is on the RBs not finding the holes too.

The biggest problem with Pitt’s RBs is that they are failing to give the ball to the best RB on the roster in Israel Abanikanda. He is a 5-foot-11 215-pound RB who can run a 4.4 and he hasn’t gotten enough carries in bigger moments. To add to that, Pitt’s head coach Pat Narduzzi has been putting hype around his name all offseason just for him to not get in the game enough. When he gets onto the field, the average person would notice that he gives the running game a boost. The more carries he gets the better the running game gets. 

When Abanikanda tires out or when Mark Whipple the Offensive Coordinator feels it’s necessary, we put in one of the changes-of-pace RBs, either true freshman Rodney Hammond who has shown flashes of his talent including winning the ACC Freshman of the Week during Week 4 or junior Vincent Davis who has been Pitt’s starting RB for most of this season and last season.

The other even bigger problem for the Panthers is our secondary not playing as well as they have in the past. This is mainly due to Pitt losing safeties Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford to the NFL. There have been flashes of them returning to their previous form with Brandon Hill’s clutch interception at the end of the fourth quarter against Tennessee to seal the game.

They’ve had great flashes but also horrible flashes too. Against Western Michigan, the entire secondary got torched by their QB Kaleb Eleby on many RPOs. The blame for the secondary isn’t all on the players though. Narduzzi’s scheme for the secondary needs some fixing as it puts too many players on islands in situations that players should not be on islands.

The team still has a chance to win the ACC Championship, but the Week 3 Western Michigan game is the main obstacle that stands in their way. The entire game Western Michigan put on tape on how to beat Pitt’s defense. Maybe Pitt also has a few tricks up their sleeve and scheme changes for ACC play (which is all that matters for making and winning the ACC Championship) because Narduzzi has said multiple times in his press conferences, “we are starting the regular season after preseason play.”

Can Pitt finally win the ACC this year? We will see what steps they have taken as Pitt has their first challenge against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta this Saturday at noon.

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