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December 4, 2021

Pat Narduzzi

Kenny Pickett

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

Bank of America Stadium

Pitt Panthers

Press Conference

Pitt 45, Wake Forest 21

PAT NARDUZZI: All right, I remember being here four years ago shaking my head. Four years later we're back and have an opportunity to come here and win it and having No. 8, Kenny Pickett, in the house is something special.

We've got 120 football players in that locker room that did it all together. Kids made a lot of plays today, and it's a tribute to the hard work they put in. We had a great week of practice and came out today and played really well, so I couldn't be prouder of the football team.

I'll open it up with questions here.

Q. Coach, I think it was their final 13 possessions they didn't score. Can you tell us what you did defensively to stem the tide after they scored three touchdowns at the opening of the game?

PAT NARDUZZI: Just little tweaks and adjustments. We didn't play any different defense than we did in the first three drives that were touchdowns, I believe, but that's just kind of how we rolled.

If you talk to some of the local guys, that's kind of how we've rolled all year, is make our adjustments, get comfortable in the game and see what they're doing, and as soon as we know what they're doing we get bead on exactly what they're doing.

Again, our defensive line, starts up front with our defensive line making plays. And our coaches did an outstanding job on offense and defense. Mark Whipple offensively with Randy Bates and Andre Powell, special teams coordinator, just did a great job coaching and adjusting to what they're doing.

Q. Kenny, Dan Marino had the fake spike. Some are saying that you had the fake slide. Can you walk us through that touchdown? Was that intentional?

KENNY PICKETT: Yeah, it was intentional. I started slowing down and pulling up getting ready to slide and I just kind of saw their body language, they pulled up, as well.

I didn't really know. I've never done that before, so I just kind of kept going after I was initially starting to slide.

Q. Pat, three years ago I asked you after the loss to Clemson about the direction of your program. It's only fair that I ask you about the direction of your program tonight.

PAT NARDUZZI: Well, I guess we're ACC champions. It's something we break down all off-season from last year when we ended the season going through winter workouts and going through spring ball, through summer conditioning with Coach Stacciotti who does an outstanding job, as well, getting our guys trained and ready to go. I guess it's pretty good right now.

Again, we still have room for improvement. We're going to have to replace Kenny Pickett in the future, but our program is where it needs to be. I think we've done a great job recruiting and continuing to insulate our football team with great players.

We had seven guys drafted a year ago, the most in the ACC, and we've got some more guys still coming. Got four guys going to the Senior Bowl, and we've got some good football players.

Q. What was it like having that kind of crowd and that kind of support follow you down from Pittsburgh?

KENNY PICKETT: Yeah, very special. Just grateful for the fans for my entire career here, just a chance to say thank you to them and everyone who's supported us. This was the goal that we've been chasing since I walked through the doors in 2017. It's an unbelievable feeling to go out there and accomplish that.

PAT NARDUZZI: You know, it's unbelievable. Something that just really hit me at the end, we sang our fight song in the locker room and then Kenny said, ACC champs on three, and it was like, Wow, we've said that so many times and it's been the goal for seven years, and how many times have we said ACC-- let's break down on ACC champs, and today when we broke down it was like, Wow, we are ACC champs.

It means a bunch. Our fans were unbelievable. They were unbelievable all year. They showed up in Charlotte and they're going to show up wherever we go next.

Q. Pat, Wake kept going after your secondary, a lot of one-on-one shots, deep shots, and especially from the second quarter on they shut it down. What can you say about their effort, their work throughout the year to put on a performance like this, the third most points scored in the country?

PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, again, started off a little slow but they continued to believe in what they were doing. Again, once we found out what they were doing, how they were doing it, they bowed up.

And we played some great coverage. Our guys made plays on the ball. I think we shook them up a little but in the back field, got him a little antsy because he did get hit a few times, and I think after -- you know, I think everybody has got a plan until they get hit.

Hartman is a heck of a football player. He's a great quarterback, and our defense did a good job shutting him down.

Q. Kenny, the curtain call, Pat calls a time-out, you get a standing O. What was that moment specifically like?

KENNY PICKETT: Yes, it's unbelievable. It's special. It's been a long road. It hasn't been this my entire career, and to battle through the adversities early on and to finish it off like this, it's unbelievable. I really don't have too many words for it.

Q. You said this was why you came back, to win this championship. What does it mean to do it with the group of guys that has been here with you so long, this senior class?

KENNY PICKETT: Yeah, the 2016 class there's a lot of guys still here, and I enrolled early so I was here a semester after they got here.

And then the 2017 class, I came in with sat Dez, Cal and Cam, Damarri, all the guys up front, Gabe, Carter. When we all came in this was the goal. And like Coach said, we worked so hard for this and we broke down on ACC champs so many times in workouts, and that's been the main focus.

So to say you're going to do something and go out and do it is very special.

Q. Kind of going along with that question right there, when you decided to come back for one more year, in your wildest dreams did you ever think you would have the kind of season that you had and that your team would have the season they had?

KENNY PICKETT: Honestly, yes. That was why I came back and I felt that strong about myself and what I could do. And on top of that, the team and the talent that we had coming back. This was absolutely everything that I had envisioned.

And just to say -- like I said, to say you're going to do something and go out and do it, it's a really special thing.

Q. Coach, it seemed like a lot of your pressure and success came on defending 3rd downs. How much of that was an emphasis throughout the week? And kind of as the game went on, how much did that lead to your success today?

PAT NARDUZZI: Well, if you put on the 3rd down reel of tape on Wake Forest offensively, Hartman -- I think they were sixth in the country on 3rd down offense. I think we were seventh in the country defensively. It was a big challenge coming in.

You watch 3rd and medium and 3rd and long and it's like Hartman didn't miss, and he didn't miss early either. But our kids hung in there. We made a lot of plays on defense today. I mean, 3rd down, I don't know what the percentages were, but I would imagine we won money down. That was, again, certainly one of our keys to victory to winning this football game.

We had to get off the field on 3rd down, and really for the last three quarters of the game we had to be probably 75 percent win on that down, and made some big plays on the ball.

Q. I know you're trying to savor the team victory tonight, but I wanted to ask Kenny about the whole Heisman, your name being among those. I remember Coach Narduzzi, you mentioned it at the Georgia Tech game about his name circulating. I just wanted to know how he feels about that.

KENNY PICKETT: Yeah, it's a special thing. It hasn't been done here in a long time, so to have your name be next to that award and talks of you going to New York City and that being close to home, it's special. It's a team award.

I think I've improved, yes, but you look at this team, we've improved so much. So grateful for every single guy in that room and the hard work that we all put in together, so I think speaks for everybody.

Q. Coach, you talked about when you guys broke it down in the locker room you said ACC champs. You're just kind of digesting that right now. At the end of this journey, seven years to get there, as you think about that, what does that mean to you?

PAT NARDUZZI: It's everything. What you work for every day is to get to this point. If we were to win a couple more -- and who knows where we'll end up being next week -- but our kids believed. We talk about faith and belief, and these guys love each other in that locker room.

We talk about -- all the time about doing it together, and this is the most unselfish football team I've been around. I think Kenny would vouch for that. Nobody cares who gets the credit. Nobody is worried about Heismans. They're just worried about winning the next game.

Our mantra has been all year, Just be 1-0. And it wasn't about winning this game to be champions today. It was about winning that one game, getting to No. 11. We wanted to get to No. 12. I think there has been only three other teams in history, Pittsburgh history, that have won 11 football games.

There's been one to win 12, and the unfinished business to get back to 1976 when we won 12, and we expect to do that in another month.

Q. Coach, you're the first Coastal Division team to win the ACC Championship since 2010. Given how much turnover we're seeing in the Coastal Division right now, how good are you feeling about your ability to sustain success beyond this year?

PAT NARDUZZI: You know, it's always a work in progress. It's not easy. It's not easy to get where we got today. There's going to be a lot of hard work in the future. I'm just going to try to relax and try to enjoy the moment right now, and we'll worry about that in another month.

But we've got one more game to go. We're not finished yet. But I feel pretty good. Regardless of the change in different -- at different schools in the Coastal, they're going to bring great coaches in and they've got great players, too.

It's hard to get to this point. It's hard to win 11 football games. I think the ACC conference is one of the best in the country, and I see the commissioner up there, Jim Phillips is the absolute best. We got the best commissioner in the country. I love that guy.

And the ACC is going big. It's only going to get better under his leadership.

Q. I know you guys usually give a 24-hour rule to enjoy the game, but with no game looming necessarily yet, how long are you going to take to enjoy this one?

KENNY PICKETT: Yeah, I think we'll get a few more hours with this one. It's a special game to walk off the field a champion and accomplish everything that you've worked for, so we're going to definitely enjoy it.

PAT NARDUZZI: We've got at least a week. I think next Saturday we'll have a little bowl practice. It'll be a bowl practice for the young guys. Let Kenny just kind of wear a T-shirt. Probably come out in his hat right here looking pretty, and we'll develop come of out guys and start working towards a future early and get our guys fresh, get them healthy, and get ready for one more.

Q. Kenny, on that bowl practice and everything, is tonight your last game at Pitt or are you playing in a bowl game?

KENNY PICKETT: I plan on playing.

Q. Kenny, all season long when you were breaking this guy's record and breaking that guy's record, you always told us, I'm not worried about accolades, I'm worried about ACC Championship. You're here. What's that like for you now? Are you even starting to allow yourself to be like, Wow, I really just did that, we really just did that?

KENNY PICKETT: Yeah, I'm going home this week and I'll be able to be with my family and kind of just take a deep breath and look back on it. I've been so focused on what we've been doing I really haven't gotten a chance to sit back and take it all in.

I told myself after we hoisted the trophy up I would be able to do that with my family, and just really enjoy it. Means the world to me to be able to do that.

Q. Erick Hallett plays a difficult position in your defense, gets picked on a good bit. What's it mean to see him respond, to have the kind of game he did tonight?

PAT NARDUZZI: You know, we really missed Damar Hamlin a year ago, who's playing with the Bills, and I think Erick Hallett continued to get better every single game.

Again, you've mentioned it. He's got one of the toughest positions on the team, that free safety position. Losing Damar, I thought he was excellent, one of the best to play that position that I've been around for many years, playing a lot of off-man coverage, and he's just continued to get better.

Cory Sanders did a great job coaching him up and tutoring him through the year, and playing with a lot of confidence and making plays.

I'm glad he didn't get a taunting on that pick six. He was looking back and I was a little worried about him, like just score, just get in the end zone.

But I couldn't be more proud of Erick Hallett.

Q. Coach, on the fake slide, Dave Clawson was asked about it and he said it was a great play and a legal play, but he said it's something that he thinks the NCAA should look at because defensive backs are taught to let up if they see a quarterback start to slide. I was just wondering what's your thoughts on that?

PAT NARDUZZI: First of all, if it was intentional and if you really did that -- you've never seen him do that. I think it was called instincts and a heck of a football play by Kenny Pickett. He started to slide, drug his foot, and then I think -- the guys were still 10 yards away from him. The closest guy might have been four or five yards away, and I just think he thought about it and there was a little hesitation, he was going to go down and be smart and be safe, but he was like, Hold on a second; he drug that right foot I believe it was and then just took off.

He's an athlete, and you can't teach that. It's called instincts, and to me it was a heck of a play.

You can watch all the slides through the years. Quarterbacks are getting whacked on those things. To me I'd coach our defensive guys to finish the play, and if he goes down a lot of times we slide over the top of him, and that's being a football player. You've got to finish the play. There's a thing called a whistle, and when the whistle blows you stop, but until then you've got to gather up. And if the quarterback slides too late, we've seen guys slide late and get scraped up and tattooed a little bit, and it's part of the game.

Again, we never practiced it. It wasn't something where today we said we're going to fake slide. It was a football play, and Kenny Pickett is the best, and that's why he's a champion.

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