Kenny Pickett, No. 15 Pittsburgh Rout No. 16 Wake Forest to Win 2021 ACC Championship

Erin WalshDecember 5, 2021

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett runs for a touchdown during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game against Wake Forest Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
AP Photo/Chris Carlson

For the first time since 2014, there is a new ACC champion. While Clemson has dominated the conference as of late, the No. 17 Pittsburgh Panthers defeated the No. 18 Wake Forest Demon Deacons 45-21 on Saturday to win their first ACC title. 

The Panthers had appeared in the ACC title game just once before Saturday's contest, falling to Clemson in 2018. Pittsburgh also had only faced the Demon Deacons just once before, with the Panthers coming out on top in a 34-13 win in 2018. 

Notable Player Stats

Kenny Pickett, QB, PITT: 20/33 for 253 YDS, 2 TD and 6 CAR for 20 YDS, 1 TD

Sam Hartman, QB, WAKE: 21/46 for 213 YDS, 2 TD, 4 INT and 11 CAR for 1 TD

Jordan Addison, WR, PITT: 8 REC for 126 YDS

Taylor Morin, WR, WAKE: 4 REC for 83 YDS, 1 TD

Israel Abanikanda, RB, PITT: 9 CAR for 55 YDS, 2 TD

Kenny Pickett Impressive for Panthers in Win

Fifth-year quarterback Kenny Pickett, who is viewed as one of the top QB prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft, had an impressive performance in Saturday's win.

The 23-year-old led the Panthers on two consecutive touchdown drives to open the game, and his fake slide on a 58-yard score might have been the highlight of the night.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

KENNY PICKETT FAKED THE SLIDE AND RAN 58 YARDS FOR THE TD 😱 <a href="https://t.co/EypNNJZYHE">pic.twitter.com/EypNNJZYHE</a>

Pickett also set a record on his first touchdown pass of the game, a 22-yard strike to Rodney Hammond Jr. He passed legendary NFL quarterback Dan Marino for the most touchdown passes in Pitt history.

Pitt Football @Pitt_FB

Most TD Passes in Pitt History<br><br>1. Kenny Pickett, 80<br>2. Dan Marino, 79<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/H2P?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#H2P</a> Β» <a href="https://twitter.com/HeismanTrophy?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HeismanTrophy</a> <a href="https://t.co/32FiKeFFWZ">pic.twitter.com/32FiKeFFWZ</a>

Pitt Football @Pitt_FB

Kenny Pickett has tied the ACC record for most TD passes in a season!<br><br>That's 41 for his 2021 campaign πŸ™Œ<br><br>Watch πŸ“Ί ABC<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/H2P?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#H2P</a> Β» <a href="https://twitter.com/kennypickett10?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KennyPickett10</a> <a href="https://t.co/6DI57wb9iw">pic.twitter.com/6DI57wb9iw</a>

Pickett continued his tremendous evening in the second quarter, hitting Jared Wayne with a four-yard score to set the ACC record for the most touchdown passes in a single season, passing Deshaun Watson, Jameis Winston, Sam Howell and Trevor Lawrence.

Pitt Football @Pitt_FB

RECORD Β» ACC Passing TD<br><br>The most prolific passing season in ACC history belongs to <a href="https://twitter.com/kennypickett10?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KennyPickett10</a> πŸ”₯<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/H2P?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#H2P</a> Β» <a href="https://twitter.com/HeismanTrophy?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HeismanTrophy</a> <a href="https://t.co/BRHDlduLcq">pic.twitter.com/BRHDlduLcq</a>

Pitt Football @Pitt_FB

Some <a href="https://twitter.com/ACCFootball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ACCFootball</a> History ✍️<a href="https://twitter.com/kennypickett10?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KennyPickett10</a> Β» <a href="https://twitter.com/jwayne_5?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JWayne_5</a><br><br>Kenny Pickett sets the ACC season record for TD passes (42) with a 🎯<br><br>Watch πŸ“Ί ABC<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/H2P?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#H2P</a> Β» <a href="https://t.co/pY4cQfrds1">https://t.co/pY4cQfrds1</a> <a href="https://t.co/XzHhiCQwZ9">pic.twitter.com/XzHhiCQwZ9</a>

Pickett continued his incredible night in the second half, leading the Panthers on two more touchdown drives. His performance had many NFL fans clamoring for their teams to draft him this spring:

Clark GrisWoodsyπŸ¦‰ @BroncoWoodsy

I really like Kenny Pickett. I will not hate it if he ends up in Orange &amp; Blue in April. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BroncosCountry?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BroncosCountry</a>

Cory Fleming @corycfleming

I like Kenny Pickett's game... reminds me of Justin Herbert. Should be first QB off board.

Phil Clark @phil_clark

Yet again, Kenny Pickett is going to be great for the Steelers

Alec Rapp @TheRealAlecRapp

The Pittsburgh Steelers NEED to draft Kenny Pickett. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CollegeFootball?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CollegeFootball</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Pitt?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Pitt</a>

ESPN projected Pickett to be taken in the first round of the 2022 Draft. However, he was projected to be the second quarterback off the board behind Matt Corral of Ole Miss. 

Regardless, Pickett's performance on Saturday night certainly improved his draft stock, so we'll just have to wait and see where he falls in the latest mock drafts following the College Football Playoff. 

It should also be noted that sophomore running back Israel Abanikanda and sophomore wide receiver Jordan Addison had impressive performances against the Demon Deacons. 

Sam Hartman's Turnovers Cost Wake Forest

While Hartman tossed four interceptions in Saturday's loss to Pittsburgh, the sophomore quarterback has a bright future ahead. He led the Demon Deacons on three consecutive touchdown drives to keep Wake Forest even with the Panthers for much of the first half.

Wake Forest Football @WakeFB

Go up and get it, <a href="https://twitter.com/taylormorin20?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@taylormorin20</a> 🎩 <a href="https://t.co/0Sfydkw409">https://t.co/0Sfydkw409</a> <a href="https://t.co/q7ctRj4dRo">pic.twitter.com/q7ctRj4dRo</a>

Hartman's issues didn't begin until just before halftime. After leading his third touchdown drive of the game, the North Carolina native tossed an interception before being forced to punt on two consecutive drives before halftime.

Wake Forest started with the ball after halftime, but Hartman and the Demon Deacons offense weren't able to muster much as they were forced to punt on three straight drives.

Hartman then tossed his second interception of the night on the team's fourth drive of the half. It was costly, as the Panthers converted the turnover into a touchdown to take a 31-21 lead with 47 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Hartman followed that up with his second consecutive interception with 13:26 remaining in the fourth quarter. The turnover was once again turned into a Pitt touchdown.

Hartman's third straight interception -- a pick-six -- gave the Panthers a 45-21 lead with 11:42 remaining in the game. That score put things out of reach for the Demon Deacons.

Pitt Football @Pitt_FB

Wake Forest's last 11 drives...<br><br>INT<br>Punt<br>Punt<br>Punt<br>Punt<br>Punt<br>Punt<br>INT<br>INT<br>INT<br>Downs<br><br>With 2 INT by <a href="https://twitter.com/Erick_Hallett4?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Erick_Hallett4</a> πŸ”₯<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/H2P?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#H2P</a> Β» <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BeatWake?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BeatWake</a> <a href="https://t.co/u3MAy3LwSw">pic.twitter.com/u3MAy3LwSw</a>

Hartman was eventually replaced by freshman quarterback Mitch Griffis. 

Despite Hartman's struggles, he could easily have Wake Forest back in the ACC title game next season. He entered Saturday's game completing 60.3 percent of his passes for 3,711 yards, 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 343 yards and 10 scores.

Seeing as how Hartman is a sophomore and has plenty of college football ahead of him, there's no reason to believe he won't keep improving as the years go on. He'll also have the opportunity to bounce back in the team's bowl game.

All things considered, keep Hartman on your radar for the 2022 season and beyond.

What's Next?

Both teams won't make the College Football Playoff, but what a day it was for the two schools. Wake Forest now awaits its bowl game.