Pitt QB Kedon Slovis still ‘not sure’ about 2023 status

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PITTSBURGH — Kedon Slovis is in no hurry to talk about 2023. Getting through 2022 has been challenging enough for the Pittsburgh quarterback.

While Slovis said he and head coach Pat Narduzzi have “glossed over” the USC transfer’s future, he’s not quite ready to make any pronouncement about where he might be playing next season.

“I told coach I’m not sure yet,” Slovis said Tuesday.

Slovis arrived in January looking to revive his career and welcomed the chance to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett.

While Slovis won the starting job in training camp, he has struggled with consistency for the Panthers (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who welcome surprising Duke (7-3, 4-2) on Saturday.

Slovis is last in the conference in touchdown passes (six) and ranks in the bottom half of the ACC in yards passing (seventh), pass efficiency (10th) and completion percentage (10th).

Not exactly what Slovis had in mind when he committed to Pitt last December. While he allowed he is dealing with some level of frustration, he added “that (frustration) is there probably in every season I played,.”

An injury suffered late in the second quarter of what became an overtime loss to Tennessee on Sept. 10 blunted any early momentum. He sat out a victory over Western Michigan before returning against Rhode Island. By then the offense’s identity had already begun shifting from the pass-happy approach of 2021 with Pickett and former offensive coordinator Mark Whipple to the more run-heavy attack led by breakout star Israel Abanikanda.

Slovis anticipated the learning curve to be steep while trying to find common ground with first-year offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. It turned out to be even more difficult than he imagined.

“It’s a big process for everyone,” Slovis said. “And for me, obviously, I haven’t played an offense like this.”

There were signs of improvement in a victory over Virginia last week. Slovis threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Bub Means, then managed the game after the Panthers took a 28-point, first-quarter lead. Slovis pointed to the uptick in shots downfield as proof of his increased comfort with Cignetti’s game plan.

Still, Slovis will not participate in the team’s Senior Day festivities, though he was careful to point out the decision was based more on logistics – only select members of his family were available to make the trip – than any sort of definitive hint that he will return.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi has repeatedly supported Slovis and publicly endorsed Slovis’ potential return in 2023. While the NFL likely isn’t an option at this point, Slovis could transfer and would likely be cleared to play immediately.

His best option is to run it back with the Panthers, though he said knowing who will or won’t be around will play a “big part” in whatever decision he makes. Narduzzi need not look far for evidence of how a transfer quarterback can thrive in year two with a program.

Nate Peterman‘s numbers were so-so when he took over as the starter in 2015, Narduzzi’s first year with the Panthers. The following season Peterman threw for 27 touchdowns against seven interceptions before getting drafted by Buffalo.

Slovis said Peterman’s journey didn’t come up in his initial talks with Narduzzi and reiterated he is going to take his time before making anything official.

“We’ve got two more games, we’re focused on that,” Slovis said. “But really (Narduzzi and I are) just organizing the types of things I need to know or the information I need to get to make a decision.”

Narduzzi mum on status of injured Pitt QBs Slovis, Patti

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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi says he doesn’t know anything about the status of his quarterbacks as the 23rd-ranked Panthers prepare for a trip to Western Michigan.

USC transfer Kedon Slovis didn’t play in the second half of Pitt’s 34-27 overtime loss to Tennessee. Backup Nick Patti filled in but appeared to injure his left leg early in the fourth quarter. Patti remained in the game and even threw a tying touchdown pass with 2:23 to go despite limping noticeably between plays.

“I always say, guys, I’m not talking personnel on Monday,” Narduzzi said. “We all know what we know. I know nothing, how about that?”

Patti completed 9 of 20 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown but also took a sack on Pitt’s penultimate snap in overtime. He took a 12-yard loss when the Volunteers blitzed and with limited mobility had no chance to escape the rush. His fourth-down toss fell incomplete.

Redshirt freshman Nate Yarnell was listed as Pitt’s third-string quarterback last week, though it was Dartmouth transfer Derek Kyler who started to warm up in the fourth quarter when it was uncertain whether Patti would be able to return.

Narduzzi called the third-string situation “unsettled,” adding that it’s a “toss up” between the two. Yarnell has received more snaps during certain team periods during the fall because he has more experience in the program, but Narduzzi said Kyler is “locked in” to what first-year offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. is doing.

Narduzzi said the uncertainty on the depth chart behind Slovis and Patti did not factor into the decision to keep Patti on the field.

“When (Patti) was out there, you know, he moved around,” Narduzzi said. “Well, now we weren’t moving the pocket or running a naked (bootleg) or anything like that with him. So we knew we didn’t feel that good. But, you know, (what’s happening with the third-stringers) had nothing to do with it.”

Pitt (1-1) is making a rare road trip to a non-Power Five conference foe when it visits the Broncos. Western Michigan (1-1) stunned the Panthers at Heinz Field (now Acrisure Stadium) last fall.

Hooker, defense lead No. 24 Tennessee past No. 17 Pitt in OT

Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
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PITTSBURGH – Tennessee coach Josh Heupel isn’t sure his team would have found a way a year ago to win a game where it fumbled twice and allowed a blocked punt. All in the second half. On the road. Against a program coming off a Power Five conference title.

It’s not last season. The 24th-ranked Volunteers may be maturing in front of their coach’s eyes. The latest proof came in a draining 34-27 overtime victory over No. 17 Pitt on Saturday, a four-hour physical and emotional marathon that ended with Tennessee spilling onto the field in a mixture of joy and relief.

“There’s a certain level of maturity that we certainly didn’t have last year at times,” said Heupel, who is in his second season of trying to restore the Volunteers to relevancy in the SEC. “Our kids are willing to continue to compete. They handled the flows, the ups and downs of the game the right way.”

There were plenty of each to go around. The Volunteers (2-0) allowed a game-tying touchdown pass from Pitt backup quarterback Nick Patti with 2:23 to go but regrouped to win it on a 28-yard lob from Hendon Hooker to Cedric Tillman on Tennessee’s first possession of the extra period.

The Volunteers’ defense, which had been relentless over the final three-plus quarters following a slow start, did the rest. It used a third-down sack and the one last of a seemingly unending streak of quarterback pressures to force Patti to throw incomplete on fourth down to end it.

“The second, third and fourth quarter, that’s as good a performance as I’ve been around in a long time,” Heupel said of a defense that struggled against quality competition in 2021. “They got put in a lot of bad positions. … I thought the overall effort from them was special.”

The defense needed to be on a night when the offense, which has become the program’s calling card, spent much of the second half running in place.

While Hooker finished with 325 yards passing and two touchdowns and Tillman caught nine passes for 162 yards, Tennessee couldn’t put the Panthers away even with Pitt severely limited.

The Panthers (1-1) lost starting quarterback Kedon Slovis to an undisclosed injury at the end of the first half and Patti spent the final quarter-plus effectively on one leg after twisting his knee while getting sacked.

The Volunteers allowed a blocked punt, saw a fumble cut short a drive and gave Pitt life late when Tre Flowers muffed a punt with 7:28 to go. The Panthers slowly moved the ball deep into Tennessee territory before a backpedaling Patti found Jared Wayne for a 4-yard score on fourth-and-goal to tie it at 27 with 2:23 to play.

Pitt finally ran out of chances in overtime. Patti – who finished 9 of 20 for 79 yards – drove the Panthers inside the 10 but Tennessee’s fourth sack forced Patti into a “heave and pray” and when his final pass fell to the turf, the Volunteers had found a way to win the type of game they’d grown accustomed to losing in recent years.

“(The defense) played amazing, you know, especially in the second half,” Tillman said. “You know, we’re not in his game if they don’t make the plays that they did.”

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

The Panthers missed a pair of field goals and saw a red-zone possession in the first quarter end with an interception instead.

“I told our guys, it’s a game of inches, and there were inches all over the place that we needed to get,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said.

Narduzzi declined to give specifics on the nature of Slovis’ injury, saying only that he was hurt while getting sacked late in the first half that turned into a fumble – allowing Tennessee to take a 24-17 lead into the break.

Slovis, who finished 14 of 24 for 195 yards with a touchdown and a pick, felt “good” after the game according to Narduzzi.

Israel Abanikanda ran for 154 yards and a touchdown for Pitt.

THE TAKEAWAY

Tennessee: The Volunteers are eyeing a big step forward this fall. Whether they take it will rely heavily on a defense that struggled against quality opponents in 2021. So far, so good.

Pitt: The offense entered the season with plenty of question marks following Kenny Pickett‘s graduation. The offensive line was not supposed to be one of them. There were times Saturday when there were multiple white jerseys in the Panther backfield almost immediately after the snap.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Panthers could potentially fall out of the poll for the first time since Halloween after letting an early 11-point lead get away. The Volunteers should vault into the Top 20 for the first time since October 2016 when the poll is released Sunday.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: Hosts Akron next Saturday, with a visit from Florida looming on Sept. 24.

Pitt: Travels to Western Michigan next Saturday hoping to avenge a stunning home loss to the Broncos last fall.