- Associated Press - Monday, October 9, 2017

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The seemingly nonstop quarterback pendulum at Pitt has swung back to sophomore Ben DiNucci.

Coach Pat Narduzzi said Monday that DiNucci will get his second start of the season on Saturday when the Panthers (2-4, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) welcome No. 20 North Carolina State (5-1, 3-0). Max Browne left a loss to Syracuse last Saturday with an upper-body injury. While Browne is still being evaluated, he is definitely out against the Wolfpack.

That leaves DiNucci, who has been occasionally effective but often erratic in five games. DiNucci has completed 36 of 65 passes for 442 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions while running for another score. He started against Georgia Tech before Narduzzi switched back to Browne. Now it’s back to DiNucci. At least for now.

“I just told him, ‘Hey, listen, we need more,’” Narduzzi said. “‘What you’ve done so far is OK, but you need more.’ It’s the same thing for everybody. Everybody needs to give more.”

DiNucci went 6 of 10 for 55 yards after relieving Browne against the Orange but spent the last play on the sideline by rule after having his helmet knocked off. Here’s where things get interesting: Instead of going to redshirt freshman Thomas MacVitte to throw the last-gasp pass, true freshman Kenny Pickett took the snap. The move burned any chance Pickett has at redshirting. It also opened the door to Pickett getting an extended look at some point should DiNucci falter.

“It’s a long game, it’s a developmental game, and it’s a guy that’s ready,” Narduzzi said. “We’d like to play him, put it that way.”

Pickett enrolled in January, giving him a jump-start on his college career. It may be starting sooner than anyone anticipated.

“Kenny is probably as mentally prepared as any freshman quarterback in the country, I think,” Narduzzi said. “He’s way ahead of where DiNucci was when he was a freshman mentally, so he’s a guy that we had confidence in from the beginning. He pays attention to details, as well. So he’ll be our backup, and we’ll progress that way.”

Having an effective running game would go a long way toward helping whoever is under center. It’s a spot that’s been uneven at best during the first half of the season. Pitt’s leading rusher in each of its last two games is Jordan Whitehead, a safety who occasionally moonlights as a running back. The Panthers are 107th in the country in rushing and dead last in the ACC. Those numbers have to improve if Pitt wants to avoid missing a bowl for the first time in a decade.

“It is what it is right now,” Narduzzi said. “I mean, we’re not going to go off the free agent wire and see if we can pick some guys up. We’ve just got to keep coaching them.”

Narduzzi added his team can’t get caught up in extending its postseason streak. At this point, winning a single game is proving hard enough. The Panthers are winless against Power Five teams this season.

“If we start looking ahead, we’re going to be in big trouble,” he said. “We’re not smart enough. We’re not mature enough to ever look ahead.”


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