On the other side, Pittsburgh comes into the game without their starting quarterback Kenny Pickett, who opted out of the bowl game for the NFL draft as well. Pickett led the Panthers to their first ACC title since joining the ACC in 2011. Pickett has thrown for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns while completing 67.2% of his passes (334-497).
Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi knows how much Pickett has meant to his team but believes in backup quarterback Nick Patti.
“Nick is a leader, works his tail off and is prepared,” Narduzzi said. “He’s been really good. Our players trust him more important and (believes) he will go out and play his best and get it done. Obviously, you would love to have Kenny but that’s not the reality. Our kids believe in Nick.”
Patti has completed 12 of 14 passes in six games played for 140 yards.
Along with not having Pickett, the Panthers will have an interim offensive coordinator in Tim Salem. Mark Whipple left to become offensive coordinator at Nebraska. Salem served as tight ends coach and offensive assistant coach.
“Anybody on our offense could do it but Tim Salem has been with me for seven years,” Narduzzi said. “Our players have a lot of trust in him. We’re going to do what we do offensively and we’re going to find out Thursday night how good it is.”