PITTSBURGH — Kedon Slovis didn’t transfer from USC to Pitt planning to sit on the bench.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi named Slovis the starting quarterback on Wednesday, ending a months-long competition with Nick Patti for the right to replace Kenny Pickett, who is working next door with the Pittsburgh Steelers after a remarkable final season with the Panthers last fall.
Narduzzi praised the way both Patti and Slovis approached their extended job interviews but called Slovis’ accuracy the separator.
“He’s a really, really good passer,” Narduzzi said. “We think he can lead us.”
Slovis, who threw for 58 touchdowns against 24 interceptions in three seasons with the Trojans before leaving last winter, won’t get a chance to ease into the gig. The 17th-ranked Panthers, who won the program’s first ACC title in 2021, open at home against West Virginia in the renewal of the “Backyard Brawl” on Sept. 1.
It will hardly be Slovis’ first go-round in the crucible of a rivalry. He went 2-0 against UCLA and played well in losses to Notre Dame in 2019 and 2020.
“I love playing in big games,” he said. “I think every player loves playing in big games. You know, from your high school rival to college, I think everyone’s favorite games are rivalry games. So yeah, you know, obviously you feel prepared, but more so I just feel excited.”
Narduzzi and new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti – in the first year of his third go-round with the Panthers – didn’t rush to a decision. They attempted to split the practice reps 50/50 and “looked at every tiny detail” before giving Slovis the nod.
Patti, a redshirt senior, spent his first four seasons at Pitt as a backup behind Pickett. He started the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Michigan State when Pickett opted out to focus on the NFL draft but ended up breaking his collarbone in the first half after completing just 2 of 5 passes for 21 yards.
By then, Slovis had already announced he was transferring to the Panthers. Patti stressed he welcomed the competition, and Narduzzi praised Patti’s professionalism in welcoming Slovis to campus.
“We’ve got confidence in both of them,” Narduzzi said. “Unfortunately the quarterback position is one guy, it becomes a one-man show.”
A show that is Slovis’ for the foreseeable future. Asked if he would introduce an “OR” on the depth chart to indicate a position is up for grabs – a favorite pastime of his – and Narduzzi shook his head.
“(Slovis) is the guy,”‘ Narduzzi said. “And we’ve got a lot of trust and faith that he’s going to be the guy.”
Slovis appeared to be “the guy” at USC indefinitely following a spectacular freshman season in which he threw for 30 touchdowns. He entered 2021 as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy-candidate before his season quickly unraveled behind injuries and inconsistent play for a team that saw head coach Clay Helton fired in mid-September.
A lower-leg injury in early November ended Slovis’ season and barely a month later he committed to Pitt after USC lured Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma to replace Helton.
There is no such uncertainty with the Panthers. Narduzzi is firmly entrenched entering his eighth season, and with two years of eligibility remaining and the entire starting offensive line from 2021 returning, Slovis is confident he can be, if not Pickett, then Pickett-like.
He said at the beginning of the month he wanted to take the standard that Pickett set and take it to the next level. Now, he’ll get his chance after a training camp that felt like a grind.
“You’ve got to remind yourself, you know, just do what coach wants you to do, be coachable, run the offense, execute,” he said. “And again, things will kind of take care of itself.”