Pickett, No. 25 Pitt escape Howell, UNC 30-23 in OT

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH – A rare mistake by Kenny Pickett nearly cost No. 25 Pittsburgh.

The senior quarterback turned darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate made up for it by doing what he’s done so often during his record-breaking season: make something incredibly difficult look incredibly easy.

Pickett atoned for a late interception that allowed North Carolina to force overtime by firing a strike through a downpour at soggy Heinz Field to tight end Lucas Krull during the first possession of overtime for an 11-yard score that put the Panthers back in front.

Pitt’s defense did the rest, harassing Tar Heels star Sam Howell into a desperation fourth-down heave that landed in the outstretched arms of Panthers defensive back M.J. Devonshire to finish off a 30-23 victory.

“Listen, everyone’s talking about offense,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “You win championships with defense. And that was a championship-level performance.”

One that kept the Panthers (8-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) in control of the Coastal Division with two games to go. Pitt will earn its second trip to the ACC title game in four years if it wins out or if it beats Virginia next week and Miami drops any of its final three games.

Pickett’s 32nd touchdown of the season to Krull finished off a 346-yard performance in which he became the school’s all-time leader in yards passing. Pickett slipped past Alex Van Pelt’s mark of 11,267 career yards in the first quarter, the latest in a series of records that have fallen during his breakout season.

“It’s awesome but all the records, awards, accolades, it’s really a team effort,” Pickett said. “I want to thank my teammates, coaches. It’s been a heck of a run, but we’re not done yet.”

Maybe not, but Pitt flirted with the idea while letting a 16-point halftime lead slip away. Howell threw for a touchdown and ran for another to get the Tar Heels (5-5, 3-4) within 23-20 with 5:34 to go.

Pitt opted to stay aggressive. Maybe too aggressive. Pickett’s pass on the first snap of the Panthers’ next drive bounced off two pairs of hands before North Carolina linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel grabbed it at the Pitt 35.

The Tar Heels drove to the Pitt 3 before settling for a game-tying 21-yard field goal by Grayson Atkins on fourth down instead of going for the win in regulation.

It’s a decision that will eat at North Carolina coach Mack Brown for a while. He initially wanted to keep Howell and the offense on the field before changing his mind.

“It’s easy to sit here and second guess myself but if I knew it was going to pour the rain, it would have been more fair to take the one shot,” Brown said.

Brown cited his team’s solid second-half defense and the momentum Howell generated late as reasons he chose to kick. Then the rain came and North Carolina’s shot at a second upset of a ranked team in five days washed away.

Playing on offense first, it took Pitt all of four plays to reclaim the lead when Pickett hit the 6-foot-6 Krull just across the goal line.

Needing to respond, North Carolina went backward. Three plays lost a yard and on 4th-and-11 Howell found himself running near midfield while being chased before launching a rainbow into a sea of players in Pitt jerseys that Devonshire grabbed to set off a giddy – if wet – celebration.

HOWELL vs. PICKETT

More than 30 NFL executives – from scouts to general managers – turned out to watch two quarterbacks expected to hear their name called pretty early in next year’s draft.

Pickett dominated early, throwing for 208 yards and two scores in the first half alone. Howell overcame a shaky first half in which he was sacked five times, dominated late. He threw for 182 of his 296 yards in the second half and used his legs to extend plays when the protection in front of him broke down, which happened frequently.

The two met afterward, with Pickett offering Howell a prediction of sorts.

“I told him, I don’t think this is the last we’ll see each other,”‘ Pickett said.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: When the Tar Heels can protect Howell and get stops on defense, they’re dangerous. When they don’t, they’re a mess. While Brown praised his team’s resilience, the fact North Carolina keeps falling into massive holes is a problem.

Pitt: The Panthers’ hope for the program’s first 10-win season since 2009 remains very much alive thanks in part to a defense that’s been hot and cold all season. Pitt found a way to make things difficult enough for Howell to build a lead and Pickett’s poise in overtime helped the Panthers avoid the kind of “Pitt being Pitt” loss that’s become a trademark of sorts for most of the last four decades.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Panthers will stay in the polls though they Will Likely need some teams above them to falter over the weekend to make any sort of major leap.

UP NEXT

North Carolina: Get a breather of sorts when FCS-opponent Wofford visits Chapel Hill on Nov. 20.

Pitt: Pickett will make his final appearance at Heinz Field – as a collegian at least – when the Cavaliers visit. Pitt has won four of its last five meetings with Virginia.

Clemson gives raises, contract extensions to staff

Ken Ruinard/USA TODAY NETWORK
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson’s board of trustees approved raises for special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach Mike Reed and defensive tackles coach Nick Eason.

Reed and Eason also received one-year extensions keeping them tied to the Tigers through Jan. 31, 2026.

Reed, who’s been with the Tigers since 2013, had his yearly salary increased $50,000 to $800,000. Eason, the former Clemson standout defensive lineman, joined the staff this past season. He also had his compensation upped by $50,000 to $800,000.

Seven other assistants were given one-year extensions by the trustees’ compensation committee, but without a raise in salary.

Co-defensive coordinators Wes Goodwin and Mickey Conn had their contracts extended through Jan. 31, 2026.

Defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall, tight ends coach Kyle Richardson, offensive line coach Thomas Austin, running backs coach C.J. Spiller and wide receivers coach Tyler Grisham all got one-year extensions through Jan. 31, 2025.

New offensive coordinator Garrett Riley last month received a three-year contract at $1.75 million per season.

Clemson will pay its 10 on-field assistants $7.475 million this season, an increase of $925,000 from the total for 2022.

The Tigers went 11-3 last season, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.

South Carolina’s Beamer suspends three freshmen from program

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Corey Perrine/USA TODAY NETWORK
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said freshmen Monteque Rhames II, Anthony Rose and Cameron Upshaw were suspended from the football program.

There was no reason given for the suspensions in the school’s statement Friday. Online records showed Rhames, 18, was booked last night and was being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on charges of carrying weapons on school property and obstructing justice.

“Our student-athletes know what is expected of them,” Beamer said. “They know that both the university and the football program will hold them accountable for their actions and decisions.”

None of the three have played for the Gamecocks.

Rose is a 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back from Miami who enrolled in January 2022 and redshirted this season. Rhames and Upshaw were part of South Carolina’s latest recruiting class and enrolled last month.

Rhames is a 6-5, 235-pound defensive lineman from Sumter and Upshaw is a 6-2, 193-pound safety from Perry, Florida.