PITTSBURGH — With a 10-7 win over the Blue team Saturday at Heinz Field, the Gold team not only won the 2022 Blue-Gold Spring Game but earned a spot in the team cafeteria reserved for steak dinners.
It was a sloppy, rainy affair at Heinz Field, with defense winning on the day, but a breakout performance from Conway Award winner Daniel Carter earned him the game’s MVP (81 total yards and two touchdowns) salvaged the day for both squads offensively — as he played double duty.
For head coach Pat Narduzzi, it was more about making it through without any serious injuries than which team wound up on top, but playing a clean game and getting to see the team in action in some capacity at Heinz Field.
“I think we got a lot of work done,” Narduzzi said after the game. “I was happy with where we ended, I would’ve liked to seen our kicking game be a little cleaner. I think any time you switch offensive linemen, that’s the hardest thing to do, so that’s always gonna hurt you. But we saw enough through 14 practices to know who we are and what we can do. I’m happy.”
With a mix-match of offensive players surrounding both Kedon Slovis and Nick Patti, a watered-down version of the playbook that didn’t reveal too many secrets, there wasn’t a whole bunch of strong offensive play. But there were definitely standout performances on both side of the ball.
Pitt Escapes the Spring Without Any Major Issues
When Deslin Alexandre got dinged up during the 2021 Spring Game, it impacted his approach into the 2021 season, so Narduzzi was just happy to be able to make it through this season’s game without any injuries.
“The most important thing today … is that we came out of the spring game healthy,” Narduzzi said. “And we did that today. I think I told you the story about Deslin being hurt a year ago, that just drives you nuts, so coming out of it healthy was the only key.”
But it actually went a step further, as Narduzzi said that Pitt avoided any serious injuries this spring as a whole for the first that either he or Pitt’s trainer has ever seen.
“Our strength staff and our trainers did an unbelievable job,” Narduzzi said. “I’ve never seen this in all my years, Chris Hanks, our trainer, never saw it in all his years. We went through 15 days of practice and we got some guys banged up, but we didn’t have one soft tissue injury. Not one hamstring, groin, nothing. That’s unbelievable.”
Pitt had 14 guys not play because of injuries Saturday, including Gabe Houy, Owen Drexel, Jake Kradel, Nate Yarnell, Marquan Pope, Stephon Hall and others, but it appears as if all will be ready to go if not by this summer than by the fall.
Stats Don’t Tell Full Story for Kedon Slovis, Nick Patti
Nick Patti completed two deep balls to Jared Wayne and Konata Mumpfield for a combined 98 yards, and he was 2-of-7 for 10 yards the rest of the way. Kedon Slovis only completed 10 of his 21 passing attempts for 64 yards and an interception.
Those numbers don’t inspire a whole bunch of confidence, but they also don’t tell the whole story either.
“It’s hard to tell,” Narduzzi said. “We’re mix-mosh at receivers, Jordan didn’t play, and not having your normal weapons for either one of them there today … we’ll go back and look at the tape. I know Nick had two nice passes, one to Konata and one to Jared Wayne, I think he had two big passes, which was good to see.”
Pitt’s rag-tag collection of offensive linemen, which didn’t feature starters in Drexel, Houy and Kradel, was regularly worn down by Pitt’s complement of defensive linemen. And Pitt’s pass catchers, with Wayne, Mumpfield and Jordan Addison combining for three catches, did not do any favors for either quarterback.
Jaylon Barden had a few drops on the day, including on a nicely thrown pass from Slovis in the end zone, and Gavin Bartholomew and Wayne himself dropped potential touchdown passes.
Of course, Slovis in particular, the quarterbacks weren’t remarkably sharp, but with the vanilla, sort of watered-down offense run Saturday, they also weren’t put in a position to showcase the extent of their abilities.
“Kedon, I thought he was good with what he had out there,” Narduzzi said. “Threw some balls to Jaden Bradley, and had some drops, I think Jaylon Barden had a drop in the end zone. I think Gavin had a drop in the end zone. He had some of the short passing game that was pretty good.”
Patti and Slovis made some nice throws Saturday and a handful of those throws didn’t count toward the stat sheet or were dropped.
Ed Conway Award Winners Showcase Worthiness
Daniel Carter, fresh off his Ed Conway Award for most improved spring player, did showcase his spring improvement Saturday.
The dual-threat Blue and Gold team runner led the way with 72 combined yards between both teams, at a robust 7.2 yards per carry, and two touchdowns. And he took his only reception for nine yards.
It was a strong game for Carter, who had the opposing defense looking wary to jump in his way at times, for the 5-foot-10, 240-pound running back. He may not play a whole bunch in 2022, but he’s clearly added a threat of both rushing and receiving to go along with his blocking. And he was the 2022 Blue-Gold Spring Game MVP, so it was a pretty spring, all in all.
And Carter’s Conway Award defensive counterpart Bangally Kamara put together a strong performance of his own Saturday.
With two tackles (one solo), 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, he flashed his ability to dip and duck around an offensive line, but he also showcases some fluidity in dropping back into coverage at times.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Money linebacker has emerged as a true three-down linebacker for Pitt, and the defense will be all that much better for it in 2022.
Pitt’s Front Seven is Going to be a Handful (for Opposing Linemen)
Now, of course, with Slovis and Patti in red no-contact jerseys, there were quick whistles to keep defenders from knocking them to the ground. But Pitt’s defense still recorded seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss and held both the Blue and Gold teams below 45 percent completion.
John Morgan put together a dominant display, with two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and three QB hits, and he wasn’t alone. Even in limited snaps, Calijah Kancey and Dayon Hayes notched sacks.
And Nahki Johnson, who Narduzzi said after the game has really picked it up over the latter half of the spring, got into the action with a sack — a play before Kamara recorded one.
Everyone knew Pitt’s defensive line would be a strength in 2022, but if the linebacking corps with the likes of ultra-athletic options in Kamara, SirVocea Dennis, Shayne Simon and Solomon DeShields can round into form, Pitt’s defense could be even better than expected. Pitt’s defensive line depth is legit, but the linebackers may not be a weakness like some thought.
Konata Mumpfield is a Difference-Maker Anywhere on the Field
Konata Mumpfield made the longest offensive play of the spring game, hauling in a 55-yard dart from Patti on the first play of the game after snaking in behind Erick Hallett, and it showed just what makes him so dangerous.
Mumpfield, at 6-foot-1, 180-pound transfer from Akron, looked very good. With his blend of crisp route running, body control and speed, he’s a threat to find himself wide open on every play.
On a play that was blown dead right as Patti launched a ball 40 yards downfield, Mumpfield wound up with the ball in his hands and a lot of green grass ahead of him.
With Addison and Wayne already established at Pitt, Mumpfield, who is only a sophomore, has a chance to be really special when all is said and done. And it’s going to start in 2022.