Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett used the rules to great advantage Saturday night in the ACC championship game — perhaps to too great an advantage.
The senior scored the game’s first points on a 58-yard touchdown scramble 1:18 into the first quarter. He got free by faking a slide in the middle of the run. The move caused the closing Wake defenders to pull up, lest they hit Pickett and be flagged for a personal foul. Pickett went on by toward the end zone.
Pickett told ABC after the game — a 45-21 Pitt victory — he was “planning on sliding” but changed his mind as he watched the defense.
“I saw him pull up, I just wanted to keep going, so it kind of worked out,” he said.
He added to that answer in his postgame press conference.
“I saw their body language,” he said, per ESPN’s David Hale. “Not something I’ve ever done before.” He told ABC he was “maybe watching too much Mike Vick.”
But did Pickett deke the Demon Deacons out of their shoes legally?
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NCAA Rule 4, Section 1, Article 3(r) states: “A live ball becomes dead and an official shall sound their whistle or declare it dead (w)hen a ball carrier obviously begins a feet-first slide.”
The officials’ judgment appears to be that Pickett hadn’t obviously begun his slide and therefore was still a live runner. Or maybe they just missed the subtle move. Whatever the case, Pickett bought himself space by giving the impression he was sliding.
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One officiating expert believes Pickett shouldn’t have been able to keep running. Terry McAulay, who is the rules analyst for NBC’s coverage of Notre Dame football and NFL “Sunday Night Football,” believes Pickett should have been ruled down at the spot he began his fake.
“This play may not meet the letter of the rules, [but] it meets the spirit. The defense is clearly placed [at] a disadvantage. This action should cause the ball to become dead,” McAulay, a former NFL and ACC referee, wrote on Twitter.
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“The defense knows he is protected once he begins a slide, so he smartly let up. That may not happen next time which puts the ball carrier’s safety in jeopardy if he does slide.”
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson didn’t think Pickett faked the slide intentionally — “If he did, he’s brilliant,” Clawson said — but he did predict that the play will be scrutinized in the offseason.
“The officials made the right call, Clawson said, per Hale. “There’s no rule against it. But it’s something the NCAA is going to have to look at.”
Pickett’s touchdown was one of five combined in the opening quarter. No. 16 Wake Forest (10-3) led No. 15 Pitt (11-2) 21-14 at the end of the period. The Panthers outscored the Demon Deacons 31-0 over the final three quarters.