The Pitt Football Star, and Biggest Surprise, Nobody is Talking About

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When Pitt released their first depth chart of the season, there were many questions and concerns.  There were plenty of new faces and several positions listed with co-starters.  The running backs column even listed A.J. Davis as co-running back who is now in the transfer portal due to lack of carries.  Based on the initial depth chart, Pitt did not look like they were going to be among the top offenses in the nation, even with 5th-year senior, Kenny Pickett.

Another position in flux going into Pitt’s Labor Day game against UMass was the placekicker.  Head Coach Pat Narduzzi had listed both sophomore Sam Scarton and freshman Ben Sauls as co-starting kickers.  Nobody knew who would replace previous kicker Alex Kessman, who graduated after the 2020 football season.  Not having a named starter out of camp was interpreted as neither kicking option standing out above the other with neither performing especially well. 

The kicking question marks nor the worries were immediately put to bed in the UMass game.  While Scarton did successfully make five kicks in the game, including a 35-yard field goal, he missed an extra point.  Also, Sauls was given the opportunity to successfully convert two extra points as well.  Scarton hadn’t completely won over fans’ confidence with the missed extra point and why would Narduzzi not want to give his starter every opportunity to practice at real game speed in a blowout victory?

Luckily, Scarton spent the rest of September and October putting any doubt to rest for good.  The sophomore kicker, battling for a starting job out of camp, went on to make his next 38 kicks including 5 field goals and 33 extra points.  He became as reliable as any kicker in the nation.  Scarton’s greatness culminated into an impressive game against Duke where he successfully converted four field goals and six extra points in the Panthers pummeling of the Blue Devils.

The only bad game Scarton had all season was against the North Carolina Tar Heels.  He missed two field goals and an extra point in a game that went into overtime.  If Pitt loses that game, potentially Scarton catches a lot more heat.  That game is definitely worth noting, however, I will take one poor game out of a kicker in his first full season as the starter.   Also, kickers often get in their own head about a poor game and it can affect the rest of their season, or at least the very next game.  Instead, Scarton successfully converted 8 of 8 kicks the next week against Virginia.

Among all FBS kickers, Scarton’s 81% field goal percentage on the year ranks him in the middle of the pack.  However, among those tasked with attempting 20 or more field goals on the year, Scarton is tied for 20th in field goal percentage.  His achievements this year were enough to earn him Third Team All-ACC honors.

A team’s game plan can be greatly affected by kicking issues.  A lot of failed fourth down conversions can be due to a coach’s lack of confidence in their kicker.  While Scarton wasn’t regularly tasked with knocking through 50+ yarders, he was a stable presence in Pitt’s offense.  

What was one of the Panthers’ largest question marks at the beginning of the season became one of their biggest non-stories.  And anytime you forget about a kicker, it is typically because they are performing well enough to not be a worry.  It will be nice going into next season knowing Scarton will be there as a stable presence as the Panthers' placekicker.