Everything you need to know for Saturday’s Blue-Gold game


Thomas J. Yang

Kenny Pickett completed 13 of 23 passes for 140 yards and an interception in 2018’s Blue and Gold Spring Game. (Photo by Thomas Yang | Visual Editor)

By Andrew Kelly, Staff Writer

Pitt’s annual Blue-Gold game is this Saturday, marking the end of spring practice and pitting teammates against each other in a full regulation-style, four-quarter scrimmage between two teams drafted from the the Panthers’ roster. In the past, the game has served as an indicator of things to come. Look no further than last season, when the game was a low-scoring slugfest, laying the groundwork for a Pitt season which would be dominated by strong defensive performances and hard-nosed — albeit inconsistent — offense.

Early Thursday, the program announced that former standouts Aaron Donald and LeSean McCoy would operate as “honorary Pitt coaches” for the game. As two of the most prolific players in recent Pitt football history, the two should have a wealth of knowledge to contribute to the players at their respective positions, as well as provide the players with an idea of what is possible for their own futures. This isn’t Donald’s first time serving as an honorary Pitt coach — he did so for the 2015 game as well. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was certainly excited about Donald and McCoy and coming on board for the game.

“When you think about NFL players who have set the standard at their positions over the last decade, Aaron Donald and LeSean McCoy are definitely high on that list,” Narduzzi said. “Our current players walk past their images every day in our facility.”

Positions to Watch

A key position group to watch for the Panthers on Saturday will be the offensive line. Pitt graduated four seniors from the offensive line last year which anchored the Panthers’ run game, the heart of their offense, despite not always being solid in pass protection. While Narduzzi and his staff surely have a framework of a depth chart in their mind, rest assured there will be plenty of competition for starting spots in the offensive trenches. This is especially the case at the guard position. Redshirt junior Bryce Hargrove looks to have the inside track at one of the spots, while redshirt junior Brandon Ford and redshirt senior Chase Brown look to compete for the other.

There’s always a discussion about quarterback heading into a spring game, but the general sentiment is that the job belongs to junior Kenny Pickett despite his struggles in 2018. Narduzzi has shown plenty of faith in Pickett and with a new offensive system that seems to be better geared toward Pickett’s skillset, I believe he will keep the starting job. However, if he struggles immensely and four-star freshman Davis Beville shows out, there could be some rumblings.

On the defense side of the ball, Pitt’s biggest question mark lies at the linebacker position. After losing multiple starters this offseason, the Panthers have a mix of players with some experience who will likely all have a chance to complete. The competition is an odd mix of having lost so many starters, yet having so many players with a decent amount of film that the coaches can go back and look at for further evaluation beyond practice.

Other Things to Watch

Saturday’s game will also be Panther fans’ first opportunity to get a peek at the play-calling of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Whipple, hired by Pitt in January, takes over a Pitt offense that lacked consistency last season and struggled to move the ball through the air, ranking 123rd out of 130 Division I teams in pass yards per game. Fans will be looking for some excitement out of Whipple and, more importantly, some signs that he can develop Pickett into a quarterback equal to the potential that he has flashed.

Whipple spent time in the pros developing quarterbacks, most notably landing a Super Bowl ring right here in Pittsburgh with the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII ten years ago while acting as the team’s quarterbacks coach. Hopefully for Pickett, the Panthers and Panther faithful, Whipple has an offense in store which will allow the talented quarterback to prosper. Whipple will be leading the blue team on Saturday, which just so happens to be the side that selected Pickett in Thursday’s team draft.

Additionally, Saturday will be the first look at Pitt’s new football uniforms in action, with the players undoubtedly excited to wear their new threads for the first time in a game-like situation.

Things to Remember

At the end of the day, this game is only taking place on April 13, so regardless of the outcome, fans need not get too high or too low. While the game gives a glimpse at certain trends such as strong sides of the ball or position groups, it cannot dictate the course of an overall season.  Few would have thought that after last year’s anemic 10-3 showing that Pitt would be champions of the ACC Coastal, yet through the summer and the season they improved and proved most of the doubters wrong.

Overall, the Pitt staff will look to distribute talent evenly across both teams, but it’s likely they want to see certain players working in conjunction with each other, as well as setting up certain matchups across the line of scrimmage. With that in mind, the rosters for both teams can be found here.

Saturday’s game is set to kickoff at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field, with gates opening at noon to allow for entrance into the stadium. All seating will be in the general admission area of the stadium behind the home sideline. All events, including the on-field autograph signing after the game, are free, except for parking.