USC transfer Kedon Slovis has been named Pitt’s starting quarterback for the Panthers’ marquee Week 1 rivalry game against West Virginia on Sept. 1, coach Pat Narduzzi announced Wednesday. Slovis beat out veteran backup Nick Patti to win the job, with Narduzzi noting that Slovis’ accuracy set him apart in the competition.
Though the Panthers lost star quarterback Kenny Pickett and Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison at receiver from last season’s ACC championship squad, expectations remain high for the program, which ranks No. 17 in the Preseason AP Top 25.
With a veteran offensive line, a proven running back in Israel Abanikanda and some talent in the receiver room, Slovis should have the tools around him to orchestrate one of the ACC’s better offenses. Slovis threw for 7,576 yards and 58 touchdowns in three seasons with the Trojans before announcing in December his plan to join the Pitt program. His decision to leave USC coincided with the program’s coaching transition from Clay Helton to Lincoln Riley and the subsequent addition of former Oklahoma star quarterback Caleb Williams through the transfer portal.
The Panthers also face a big game in Week 2 as they welcome Tennessee. Pittsburgh then faces a Week 3 road test against a Western Michigan program that was one of only two teams to hand the Panthers a regular-season loss in 2021.
An injury-plagued journey
Injuries have, in many ways, defined Slovis’ college career. The former three-star prospect looked like a potential redshirt candidate as a true freshman in 2019 until then-starter JT Daniels, now at West Virginia, went down midway through the season opener against Fresno State with a knee injury. Slovis stepped in and finished the year seventh nationally in passing efficiency while winning Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors.
Then, as a junior in 2021, it was an injury to Slovis in the third game of the season against Washington State that led to an opportunity for another true freshman, Jaxson Dart. Though Slovis returned the following week, he and Dart both played over the next several weeks before Dart took over the starting job for good in mid-November. If Slovis can regain the form he showed as a freshman in 2019, the Panthers will be in great shape at the position.
Solid targets remain
While it’s true that five of Pittsburgh’s top seven receivers from last season are gone, including Addison, there are some talented targets on the roster. The Panthers landed Akron transfer Konata Mumpfield, who caught 63 passes for 751 yards and eight touchdowns for the Zips last season.
<p>Last year's second-leading receiver, Jared Wayne, also returns after catching 47 passes for 658 yards and six touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 target could be in line for an All-ACC type of season as he takes on some of Addison's targets. Sophomore tight end Gavin Bartholomew is a weapon as well after catching 28 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman.</p><h2>Running a different system</h2><p>Pitt will likely lean on the ground game more than it did last year, and that's a departure from the offense Slovis operated at USC, too. With last year's offensive, Mark Whipple, gone for Nebraska, Frank Cignetti Jr. is now calling the plays for the Panthers after spending the last two seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Boston College.
BC threw the football just 40.3% of the time last season, though some of that can be attributed to injury issues with star quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Still, that mark stands in stark contrast to Pittsburgh’s 53.3% pass rate last season and the 56.5% mark that USC posted last season, the latter of which ranked No. 8 nationally.
Narduzzi made it clear in a live-streamed appearance with a Pittsburgh car dealership that running the ball will be more of a priority this season.
“Our old offensive coordinator had no desire to run the ball,” Narduzzi said. “Everybody knew it. He was stubborn. I mean, Wake Forest, 118th in run defense and we threw the ball every down. When we ran it, we ran it for 10 yards but that wasn’t good enough.”