There has been a lot of hue and cry from the Pitt faithful this season regarding HC Pat Narduzzi and OC Shawn Watson’s burning of QB Kenny Pickett’s redshirt in the Syracuse game. I read and hear the complaints about that move every day since that happened and have to smile just a bit when I do. Why? Let me explain…
You remember that SYR game right? A 27-24 loss in which not only did SYR beat us for the first time in five years but where we went through three different QBs ending up with Kenny Pickett taking his first college snap on a meaningless end-of-game play.
Let’s set the stage here:
That game was the 7th of this season and we sat at 2-4 and 0-2 in conference play. As things progressed during the game we saw starting QB Max Browne go down halfway through the 3rd quarter on a vicious sack, allowed by a mix-up between Ollison and Flanagan on pass protection, that tore his shoulder ligaments putting him out of action for the rest of the game (and out of his very short Pitt career).
After that injury rsSO Ben DiNucci came in as he should have because he was the listed two-deep QB and who had been getting QB2 snaps both in fall camp and the season’s regular play’s practices. That left rsFR Thomas MacVittie and true FR Kenny Pickett on the bench if needed.
And one of them was needed because on the last possession Pitt had a 2nd and 18 with only 52 seconds left on the clock and DiNucci was sacked and his helmet came off. So with no time outs remaining Narduzzi called for Pickett to take the snap and thus screwed Pickett out of a full year of eligibility.
Why that particular scenario is important and why I’m re-hashing this is because with that scenario, knowing we would lose that game to go 2-5 and 0-3 in conference, Narduzzi already knew that a winning season was already very unlikely and that a division championship was almost certainly out of reach.
So why didn’t anyone else take a snap and a knee or throw the ball on that last play? Remember we had MacVitte, Pickett – and here’s a thought – SO QB Jake Zilinskas standing on the sidelines. MacVitte, Zilinskas or even Whitehead could have taken that last snap because… and here it gets kind of unbelievable… the play call on that last snap wasn’t either a Hail Mary or a trick play with laterals and such.
At 2nd and 18 it was a run of the mill passing play where Pickett hit Lopes for a 13 yard gain as the clock ran out.
And here is why I smiled at that play and the subsequent angst of the Pitt fans for that personnel move that almost certainly screwed a promising QB out of a year of play.
It is because that was Pat Narduzzi’s plan all along. What was lost in the all the post-game noise was that he had alluded earlier in interviews that Pickett was going to be the 2nd string QB and MacVittie would be relegated to the woodpile, or in this case Special Teams where marginal talent goes to die…
Here is what our HC said after the SYR game…
“As far as Browne’s future, Narduzzi guessed he might be able to start throwing again in seven or eight weeks, if he doesn’t try to rush back. As for Pitt’s future, it might make more sense now to burn freshman Kenny Pickett’s redshirt, and Narduzzi said “there’s a plan” for how — or maybe if — to use him behind DiNucci.
“That’s kind of our thoughts going in, just telling Ben, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to try to do,’ and try to stick with that plan,” Narduzzi said. “Sometimes you have a plan going in, and sometimes the plans change.”
Note the “Narduzzi said “there’s a plan” for how to use him behind DiNucci.” Drivel.
But I also think there is something else that we fans are overlooking. Why would a head coach in his 3rd year of a contract worry at all about what is going to happen 2, 3 or 4 years down the road when there is a good possibility that same coach won’t be at the present school anyway?
Forget about that two-year extension Narduzzi got tacked onto his original contract which hired him until the 2012 season – those add-ons are commonly done not for merit rewards but for recruiting purposes (as it was in this case) and they have minimal buyout clauses written in so either side can easily terminate those two added years as is often done by either the HC leaving or his being fired. (On a side note; of course that also locked Narduzzi into a ridiculously low $1.83M salary which was a good move for Pitt if you think he’s worth that I suppose).
So Narduzzi wasn’t and isn’t looking at what Kenny Pickett’s going to be like in his 2019 JR and 2020 SR years because there is a good chance that Narduzzi won’t be here to see it.
Or he could pull a move like Wannstedt did with Pat Bostick in 2008 when he promised that Bostick would have that redshirt he missed out on in 2007 only to put him in for meaningless snaps against Rutgers… when he still had two other QBs on the bench at the same time. I was sitting near Pat SR when that move was made and it looked like he was launched out of a rocket pad he was so angry.
It’s time we realize that the relationship between a head coach and a player is pretty damned one-sided as far as playing time goes- the player is there to be used or not used at the HC’s discretion.
We saw that writ large when DiNucci was benched in the next game against NC State and Pickett got a few series… then in the post game interviews both DiNucci and the head coach gave contradicting statements about whether or not DiNucci was told Pickett would play…
It is pretty obvious at this point, especially given that Pickett has seen no playing time since the NC State loss four games ago that Narduzzi isn’t concerned with what is best for Pickett at all. This is why I feel Narduzzi’s handling this QB situation exactly the wrong way.
What we have now is a backup QB who has taken a total of 14 pass attempts in 61 minutes of play – a full quarter of a season ago. It’s almost hard to believe.
What happens if DiNucci goes down with an injury against the better, faster and stronger defenses we’ll see in the next two games? That can easily happen given DiNucci’s tendency to wander all over the backfield then darting forward toward oncoming LBs and Safeties.
I suppose it is to then throw Pickett to the wolves without even trying to get him prepared to face those two better teams if needed.
What is obvious, or should be, is that it is the DiNucci and Pickett show now and going into next offseason’s camps. Why Narduzzi can’t see that this season is, for all intents and purposes, a losing year to use in preparation for 2018 is beyond me. Maybe he literally can’t think that far into the future.
Either way what I fear the most is that somehow he’s becoming so enamored with Ben DiNucci (similar traits maybe?) to the extent that he feels he has to use every snap remaining in 2017 to prepare DiNucci as the true incumbent starter for 2018 instead of DiNucci’s just being the next man up after Browne this year. When in reality he should be getting Pickett as many snaps as possible to ensure we have an as competitive as possible QB battle for that 2018 starting role.
I have a bad feeling about the QB situation for next season folks… Narduzzi’s ‘come hell or high water‘ approach to DiNucci as the playing QB is worrisome and I feel it’s misguided. And all this is written with the my real feeling that Pickett could probably give us a better chance of winning these last two game than we could with the play DiNucci has shown so far.
When you have a QB who has thrown for only 149 yards per game on average in his four starts with only 2 TDs and 2 INTs… that production can be matched or exceeded by almost anyone with a halfway decent arm and any sort of football brain at all. Regardless if he’s a true FR.
It has become screamingly apparent that Narduzzi hates any risk factor at all in his decisionmaking, that much is obvious. But if there is any better time to roll the dice and set up Pitt near-future seasons it is in getting Pickett playing time right now however INTs he may throw. I’d bet a beer that given the time and opportunity to play on any sort of regular basis in this season’s end Pickett will prove to be at least as good as Dinucci if not, I believe, even better.
Either way it is the best move to make now for the good of the 2018 team.