I was recently interviewed for a podcast (season preview for Pitt football, will be published around July 4th and I’ll post the link when it goes up). One of the questions was, “Do you guys have a quarterback?” My answer was, “Well…no”.
Now that is not entirely true. And when you listen the podcast you’ll understand why I said what I said. It has to do with history versus potential, and right now, history shows we “kind of” don’t have a quarterback.
In fact, every first year quarterback since Bill Stull has – for the most part – has posted better stats than Kenny Pickett.
You’ll notice that Stull and Pickett have pretty similar stat lines, and very similar completion %’s. They have exactly the same Adjusted Yards per Attempt.
Pickett was more efficient though. He posted higher TD’s per attempt, and a much lower INT per Attempt number. Pickett also protected the football better, throwing 12 TD’s versus 6 INT’s. Stull threw just 9 TD’s and a whopping 10 picks. As a result Pickett’s QB rating was a tick higher.
It’s also worth noting that Stull’s schedule was much lighter than Kenny’s 2018 slate. According to Sports-Reference.com, Stull’s 2008 SOS was 3.17. Pickett’s SOS in 2018? 6.55. (Incidentally 6.55 is the toughest Pitt SOS since 1982.) So it is safe to say that Pickett posted better numbers than Stull against tougher competition.
Big deal right? Well, kind of.
You see, there are quite a few parallels between the 2008 Pitt Panthers and the 2018 Pitt Panthers.
1) Both teams were broke in new quarterbacks.
2) Both teams put up poor offensive showings in the Sun Bowl, which led to…
3) Both teams let go of ineffective and unpopular OC’s in the offseason in the interest of improving their passing games. In 2009 Pitt fired Matt Cavanaugh and brought in Frank Cignetti. in 2019, Pitt fired Shawn Watson go and brought in Mark Whipple.
Stull flourished under Cignetti. En-route to ten wins in 2009, Stull completed 65% of his passes, threw for 21 TD’s and posted an excellent 150.6 passer raking
Of course Dion Lewis went for nearly 2000 yards from scrimmage that year (as a freshman!) as well…
And five-star WR Jonathan Baldwin caught 61 balls for nearly 1200 yards.
and All-American Tight End “Scorin” Dorin Dickerson caught 10 touchdowns.
and all that means that the O-Line was probably pretty good.
Okay so maybe there are some non-parallels as well. We can only hope for such a supporting cast in 2019.
But still, the 2019 team is not totally devoid of talent. WR Taysir Mack is among the ACC returning leaders in Yards Per Catch. WR Maurice Ffrench flashed last year. We all saw how explosive newly-converted running back V’Lique Carter can be. On top of that, four-star redshirt Freshman running back Mychaele Salahuddin looks to be back at full strength.
If our veteran offensive line coach Dave Borbley can manage to develop two competent Offensive Tackles (50/50 chance IMO), then it will all come back to our boy Kenny Pickett.
And so the question is, can Whipple work his magic on a guy who has all the arm talent in the world, but who’s also got a well-documented case of happy feet?
We won’t truly find out until the Virginia game, but we might be able to glean some insight from Pickett’s offseason QB coach, Tony Racioppi. Pantherlair’s Chris Peak interviewed him a few weeks ago, and the recording is definitely worth a listen.
Here are the quotes that jumped out at me:
“The quarterback it’s all about what’s around him and the playcaller.”
“If you have a lot guys around you who are talented, but you have a playcaller around you who are talented and the playcaller who is shaky, you have a great game you have a bad game, it’s never kind of a consistent kind of thing’
“What’s exiting for [Pickett] is that [there’s more around him] and Mark Whipple’s a fantastic offensive coach”
“At the end of the day the only thing you can’t simulate live is people coming at your quarterback. When you are in the game it’s a feel for moving an understanding, and it only comes with reps”
(on KP’s tendencies under pressure) “I think it’s a combination of of A the repetition of doing it and B, you don’t really know what he was taught sometimes. You don’t know if it was like ‘listen on this play we are only sending out one and two, you’re going to two-hitch the one and hopefully he gets open, if he doesn’t then try to get to two or make a play with your feet’.”
“Sometimes it’s what’s taught with the quarterback. Like sometimes for instance the quarterback is taught to work high to low. Sometimes on the same pass play it might be low to high. If you saw his stats last year, a lot of times at halftime he was 7 for 10 or 8 of 12 for 70 yards. That was the offense. A lot of [Pitt’s] stuff was low to high, and I think, you know, he did his job.”
“[A quarterback] is going to do what you are coached to do. You know if it’s a curl-flat and you were taught to read it flat-to-curl and the flat is open, you take it right away and get the ball out of your hands, and you do it and you complete it, it’s a five yard completion, but you did your job”.
Wow. Just wow. I mean for all we know Racioppi was just giving us generic examples of “things that happen in football”. Right?
Or for all we know, that was a genericized insider look at how Shawn Watson ran his offense. Right?
Now to be clear, removing Watson doesn’t guarantee that Pickett will develop, but at least he will have a chance to flourish in what Racioppi calls “a very quarterback friendly system”. In other words, it’s probably safe to assume Whipple isn’t coaching KP to take the five yard out in the flat as his first option. Whipple may even allow three receivers to run routes on the same play! Needless to say, I’d expect Pickett’s YPA, TD’s (and probably interceptions) to go up.
Last but not least, and this is more an item of interest than something I think will help Pickett’s game, Pickett was recently invited to the Manning Passing Academy. You’ll remember that Tino Sunseri was also invited to said passing academy in 2011. His numbers took an immediate nosedive in 2012. Granted Sunseri transitioned to Todd Graham’s “high octane” in 2012…so that may have affected him. Here’s to hoping, nay believing that Pickett has more Stull than Sunseri in him, and this will be his breakout year.
Hail to Pitt