Pittsburgh – Pat Narduzzi, the head football coach at Pitt, stood near the 50-yard line before the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia, talking with his former star quarterback Kenny Pickett.
“Kenny is like, hey, whatever it takes, get it done,” Narduzzi said. “Kenny is awesome. He’s like, gosh, I wish I could play. I said, ‘You’re playing on Sundays, it’s all right.’ “
Pickett is now challenging for the starting job for the Pittsburgh Steelers after being selected 20th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. The starting job for the Panthers rests on the arm of transfer Kedon Slovis. No slouch in his own right, Slovis began his career at USC with tremendous success.
Winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2019, followed by first-team All-Pac 12 accolades the following season in 2020, the script was being written for Slovis to ride out his collegiate career with the Trojans.
That would not be the case after he struggled in his junior year and final season at USC, finishing with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions as the Trojans finished with a 4-8 record last season.
Hence the new beginning in Pittsburgh with the Panthers.
“Really, we are just trying to get Slovis comfortable with this team,” said senior linebacker SirVocea Dennis. “He only had about eight months here. We wanted him to know we got his back. No matter what goes wrong. No matter what goes right. We are here for you. Pitt means me not we. We are together.”
Slovis recorded the 12th 300-yard passing game (308) of his career in his Panthers debut and more importantly helped in winning the 105th edition of the Backyard Brawl, 38-31 over West Virginia.
“You know what, I thought he was a little late with the ball at times,” Narduzzi said of his new quarterback, but “16-of-24, pretty good. I think one TD, five sacks, I don’t like the sacks, but we’ll look at that. Don’t like the sacks at all.”
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With a little over six minutes left in the game, Slovis provided a glimpse of the positive traits that once poised him to become one of the top prospects in the country. He led Pitt on a 92-yard scoring drive that ended with his lone touchdown pass to running back Israel Abanikanda.
“No question about it,” Narduzzi said, when acknowledging the importance of how Slovis handled himself. “I think he was late with some of the passes, but he had a heck of a game and made the plays when he needed to. You can see he’s accurate with the football.
“He had some mistakes, whether he didn’t bring a guy into motion one time, but we had two guys across on a dig and had too many people in the hole there. There should have been some movement there. Just little details, openers and nerves, big crowd, rivalry game. We’ll clean a lot of those things up.”
It took a little time to find his rhythm. Despite being a fantastic game to watch, the Pitt offense felt a little awkward, but that might have something to do with not having Pickett running the show. Slovis made the plays needed and was affected by several drops by his key receivers.
The potential is there for Slovis to have a great season, but he just might need some time to adjust to the new faces. Following in the footsteps of Pickett is not an easy task, but nevertheless, Pickett is doing his best to help Slovis reach his full potential.
“He texted me last night good luck,” Slovis said after the game. “Then I saw him right before the game and he was like, ‘Go sling it. Go be you and have fun.’ It’s awesome to have him here.”
The Panthers have quietly placed three quarterbacks in the NFL over the last nine years. Tom Savage was selected in round four of the 2014 NFL Draft, followed by Nathan Peterman one round later in 2017 and then Pickett was the only quarterback selected in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft.
Slovis is in an ideal situation to get back in the good graces of NFL evaluators. With nearly a dozen NFL scouts at the game, he had to leave them with a good impression on what is yet to come.
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