ATLANTA — The mystery of who will start at quarterback for Pittsburgh in Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Georgia Tech hasn’t been a concern for Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson.
Max Browne, a graduate transfer from Southern California, started the first three games for the Panthers (1-2), including in back-to-back losses to top 10 teams Penn State and Oklahoma State. Coach Pat Narduzzi might start sophomore Ben DiNucci against the Yellow Jackets (1-1).
“Prepare for their system,” Johnson said. “It don’t matter who they play at quarterback. I could care less.”
Added Johnson with a smile: “They don’t know who we’re going to play at right guard.”
Pitt bracketed the two quarterbacks on their depth chart, separated with “OR.”
For Johnson, that was a sign Narduzzi was planning on a change to DiNucci. Johnson said when “the starter has been the starter for three games and it’s either/or,” it usually means a new starter for the following game.
DiNucci passed for 228 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions while playing behind Browne in last week’s 59-21 loss to No. 6 Oklahoma State.
Narduzzi said he’ll make the decision based on “coaching feel.”
“Obviously Ben sparked things with his feet and his athletic ability and what he can do running the ball, and he does some great things, which we know,” Narduzzi said.
Some more things to know about the matchup of ACC Coastal Division teams:
WINNING KICKS: The Panthers have won two straight in the series, including a 37-34 victory last year on a 31-yard field goal by Chris Blewitt as time expired. Blewitt kicked a school-record 56-yard field goal to beat the Yellow Jackets 31-28 at Georgia Tech in 2015.
“It definitely is in the back of our minds,” said Georgia Tech cornerback Lance Austin. “We lost on a field goal the last two years, so one thing we’re hyping is finish, just finish. We’ve got to make the little things happen.”
WHITEHEAD RETURNS: The Panthers were forced to make do in the secondary over the first three weeks while junior safety Jordan Whitehead served a suspension for a violation of team rules. Whitehead, the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2015, gives Pitt a needed dose of speed and physicality provided he can stay out of trouble.
Narduzzi said he believes Whitehead has learned his lesson while sitting out the team’s slow start, adding it also sent a message to the rest of the Panthers that no one is above reproach.
READY FOR ACTION: After opening the season with two games in five days, Georgia Tech has had to wait 14 days to play again, after its game at Central Florida scheduled for Sept. 16 was canceled due to Hurricane Irma. The good news is Georgia Tech is well-rested. Their players also are eager to play.
“I think everybody was ready to get back out there and start practicing and be ready to play on Saturday,” said quarterback TaQuon Marshall. “Everybody really hated we didn’t play this last Saturday.”
STUDY LONG, STUDY RIGHT? Pitt began practicing against Georgia Tech’s unique triple-option during camp and made it a point to have at least one period a day dedicated to the Yellow Jackets’ throwback attack. Paris Ford, a cornerback who is redshirting this season, served as the scout team quarterback, doing his best to mimic Georgia Tech’s TaQuon Marshall.
Narduzzi called Ford the best stand-in for an option quarterback the Panthers have had during his three years but jokingly added there are no plans for Pitt to go the triple-option route to solve its messy starting quarterback situation.
TOP-RANKED RUN TEAM: The Yellow Jackets’ spread-option offense is on a roll behind Marshall, in his first season as a starter. Georgia Tech ranks first in the nation with 272.5 yards rushing per game. Pitt’s defense allows 119.7 yards per game on the ground.