Kenny Pickett knew he would miss some games with an ankle injury. But he also had a recovery plan and intended to be back in time to face Florida State.
His return was just the spark Pittsburgh needed.
Nick Patti had two touchdown runs, Pickett added a 10-yard TD run and the Panthers capitalized on short fields to defeat Florida State 41-17 on Saturday night, snapping a four-game losing streak.
Pickett returned to the starting lineup after missing two games, losses to top-15 teams Miami and Notre Dame. The senior completed 21 of 27 passes for 210 yards, connecting with freshman Jordan Addison a season-high 11 times for 127 yards.
“I’m just not at 100 percent yet,” Pickett said. “I had this game circled after it happened, I kind of knew this was the game where it would come back or at least plan to come back. A credit to our training staff and doctors. I was pretty much living with those guys to this moment. A lot of hard work went into it and it’s just great to be back.”
Pickett said he was watching Florida State film, preparing for this game during the bye last week. With Pitt on the goal line twice in the first half, he yielded to Patti for touchdown runs from 1 and 2 yards for Pittsburgh (4-4, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference). But Pickett was efficient and showed little effects from the ankle injury.
“Kenny Pickett is a tough, tough son of a gun,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I didn’t even know if he was going to go or not. He did go and he played hard. Obviously, he had a heavily taped up, braced ankle, but he’s my MVP. Our offense ticks when he’s out there.”
Florida State’s offense stopped ticking and was scoreless in the second half for a third straight game. Jordan Travis had an 88-yard TD run, but Florida State (2-5, 1-5) couldn’t generate much of a rushing attack otherwise, accumulating just 58 yards on their other 34 carries.
Travis left the game at halftime with an undisclosed injury. Freshman Chubba Purdy came off the bench and completed 12 of 21 passes for 38 yards, including an interception.
The Panthers scored four touchdowns with the benefit of short fields, completing drives of 32, 41, 47 and 20 yards. Two interceptions as well as a pair of fourth-down stops helped Pitt’s offense.
“That’s all the difference in the world when you give your offense a short field to work with,” Narduzzi said. “The offense did a heck of a job, the run game, the pass game, we put it all together.”
Brandon Hill also had a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Panthers’ third pick of the game.
SirVocea Dennis had two of Pitt’s seven sacks, which matched a season-best for the Panthers. Pitt also had seven sacks against Syracuse and Louisville.
Pitt’s defensive pressure coupled with the turnovers forced Florida State coach Mike Norvell to go for it on fourth down, with the Seminoles converting just 1 of 3 chances.
“We put the defense in some really bad situations tonight with field position and some turnovers,” Norvell said. “Right now we’re not at that place within our program where we’re able to overcome the negatives that are showing up there offensively.”
ADDING UP FOR ADDISON
Addison came into the day tied for second in the ACC in receptions. He now has 52 catches for 611 yards, which extends his team lead in both categories. It was the most catches by a Pitt freshman since Tyler Boyd in 2013 against Georgia Tech.
Florida State was playing shorthanded on defense without preseason All-American tackle Marvin Wilson. The Seminoles were also without defensive backs Hamsah Nasirildeen, Renardo Green and Travis Jay.
Pittsburgh had struggled on the ground this season but was balanced on offense and had 148 yards rushing on 37 carries.
Florida State had been averaging 197 yards rushing per game but couldn’t get a ground game going against one of the nation’s top-5 rush defenses.
Pittsburgh will play at Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Florida State will play at NC State on Saturday.
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