Pitt names Kedon Slovis starting QB: USC transfer to lead Panthers against West Virginia in backyard brawl

USC transfer Kaydon 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 won the job over veteran backup Nick Patti, with Narduzzi noting that Slovis’ accuracy set him apart from the competition.

Although the Panthers lost star quarterback Kenny Pickett and Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison at receiver from last season’s ACC championship team, expectations are high for a program ranked No. 17 in the preseason AP Top 25.

With a veteran offensive line, proven running back 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 his plans to join the Pitt program in December. 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 via the transfer portal.

The Panthers also face a big game in Week 2 as they host Tennessee. Pittsburgh then faces a Week 3 road test against a Western Michigan program that was one of two teams to hand the Panthers a regular-season loss in 2021.

Travel Injured

Injuries have, in many ways, defined Slovis’ college career. The former three-star prospect looked like a possible 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 finished the year ranked seventh nationally in passing efficiency, winning the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Award.

Then, as a junior in 2021, it was Slovis’ injury in the third game of the season against Washington State that provided an opportunity for another true freshman, Jackson Dart. Although Slovis returned the following week, both he and Dart played the next several weeks before Dart began to perform better 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.

Concrete goals 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.

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 season as he takes over some of Addison’s targets. Sophomore tight end Gavin Bartholomew is a weapon as well as a true freshman, catching 28 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns.

Run a different system

Pitt will likely lean more on the ground game than last year, and it’s also a departure from the offense Slovis ran at USC. Offensively last year, Mark Whipple, who went to Nebraska, is calling the plays for the Panthers after Frank Cignetti Jr. spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Boston College.

BC threw the football just 40.3% of last season, though some of that could be due to an injury to star quarterback Phil Jurkovic. Still, that mark contrasts with Pittsburgh’s 53.3% pass rate last season and the 56.5% mark USC posted last season, the latter of which was No. 8 nationally.

Narduzzi made it clear in a live streamed appearance with a Pittsburgh car dealership that running the ball will be a priority this season.

“Our old offensive coordinator didn’t want 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 it wasn’t enough.”

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