I'm going to put my neck on the line here when I say refs give quarterbacks preferential treatment. Defenders are flagged for breathing the same air as a QB after he throws downfield, and if you so much as touch him on the ground, you gift the offense a free 15 yards. The line becomes increasingly blurred between what's a football play and what's too rough every year.
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett is fully aware of referees' lifelong mission to protect signal-callers. He took full advantage and turned it into one of his best plays of the season.
Kenny Pickett's Fake Slide vs. Wake Forest
AFTER BURNERS ACTIVATE ???
Kenny Pickett 58-yards to the HOUSE.#ACCFCG | @Pitt_FB
? https://t.co/dXvEmbEk0H pic.twitter.com/JQiOVOWMgc
— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) December 5, 2021
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The Pittsburgh Panthers received the first possession of the 2021 ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, North Carolina. Pickett was moving the offense along when he found himself in a third-and-5 situation on his own 42-yard line.
Pickett dropped back to pass, and the pocket quickly collapsed. He scrambled past midfield, and as he met two Wake Forest defenders, he pulled a fake slide out of his bag of tricks to freeze them in their tracks. He turned the jets on again and found an opening on the right sideline to complete the 58-yard touchdown run.
The play not only sent the Bank of America Stadium audience into a frenzy but also probably locked Pickett as a Heisman Trophy finalist. The Pitt QB ranks fifth in the country in passing yards with 4,319. He's also found the end zone 42 times through the air, which is good for third in all of college football.
Pickett's electric run set the tone in Pittsburgh's 45-21 win and helped capture the program's first ACC title.
While the Saturday night social media crowd also loved the run, Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson asked the NCAA to review its rules.
Should Fake Slides Be Legal?
?The officials made the right call. There?s no rule against it. But it?s something the NCAA is going to have to look at.?
Dave Clawson had some thoughts on Kenny Pickett?s fake slide. pic.twitter.com/NMgyrxkXGJ
— Josh Graham (@JoshGrahamRadio) December 5, 2021
Clawson addressed the play in his postgame press conference by acknowledging there isn't any rule preventing quarterbacks from fake sliding. However, he said the NCAA should consider one.
"If that is the rule, I will just have my guy fake knee all the way down the field and really, what do you do?" Clawson said. "So it's something the NCAA is going to have to look at, and you know, you can't fake a slide."
The Wake Forest head coach continued by explaining how he coaches his players when a quarterback slides:
"You just train your players, as soon as your quarterback starts sliding, you stop because if you touch him it's going to be a penalty," Clawson said. "He started his slide and our kids stopped playing. I don't think he did it intentionally, but if he did he's brilliant. I just think he reacted as an athlete. But what do you tell your players? The quarterback is protected, and there are two guys there who could have made a play but stopped playing because he started to slide."
Pickett later admitted the first-quarter fakeout was intentional.
"Yeah, it was intentional," said Pickett, the ACC player of the year. "I just kind of started slowing down and pulling up and getting ready to slide and I just kind of saw their body language and they just pulled up as well. ... I have never done that before. I just kind of kept going after I initially started to slide."
Is there a correct way to rule on this? Offensive players, especially quarterbacks, already benefit from the doubt over defenders, and fake slides put them in even more of a bind. That being said, can you really penalize a runner for putting on a move?
Maybe the NCAA can draw something up as Pickett relishes in the title game win and prepares for the NFL Draft. His sensational year was emphatically stamped with a savvy run that showcased his quick decision-making ability. Teams from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, and Kansas City Chiefs to the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons took notice.
As Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, and Cincinnati set to square off in the College Football Playoff, Pitt's ACC conference championship rewarded them a matchup against Michigan State in the Peach Bowl on ESPN.
Coaching changes for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Oklahoma Sooners, Florida Gators, USC Trojans, and LSU Tigers have dominated college football news. Not to mention the announcement of the final CFP rankings, where Bama reigns supreme once again, cemented the bowl schedule.
Pickett's run adds another talking point. Does protecting the quarterback give them too much of an advantage?
MORE: Could a Punter Win the Heisman? Matt Araiza's 80-Yard Moonshots are Making a Case
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