When Kedon Slovis enrolled early at USC in Jan. 2019, he arrived just a few weeks after Graham Harrell was hired as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator. And when Harrell was let go in Dec. 2021, Slovis left just a couple of weeks later.
Obviously, that’s all coincidence, but it’s not a coincidence that Harrell and Slovis developed a strong bond through three seasons. Through All-Pac-12 honors and conference championship appearances, the duo thrived, but the 2021 season was tough on everyone.
Harrell was relieved of his offensive coordinator duties following the season, and he found his way to West Virginia just over a month later. Slovis wanted a fresh start, entered the transfer portal and quickly found his way to Pittsburgh. The former offensive coordinator and quarterback will now meet once again, this time as opponents for the first time.
The Backyard Brawl will pit Slovis’s Panthers against Harrell’s Mountaineers, and that’s not even the extent of the USC presence. J.T. Daniels, the one-time starter at USC, whose injury allowed Slovis to step onto the field and never look back, is once again playing for Harrell.
It’s something of a USC reunion at Acrisure Stadium on Sept. 1, but Slovis is solely focused on where he is now. A Pitt mantra has been to be where your feet are. He’s in Pittsburgh. Harrell and Daniels are in Morgantown. Even though he played three seasons for Harrell, he doesn’t believe that will alter anything about the game.
“Someone asked me that the other day, ‘Do you think Graham (being WVU’s OC) — is that gonna help them?’ I don’t know,” Slovis said Wednesday. “It’s a different offense. Maybe he knows some tendencies that I wasn’t aware of, but I like to think everything he knows I’ve been made aware of because he’s coached me for three years. So, if I have a tendency I needed to improve on, I’d like to think he already made me aware of it throughout our time there.
“It’s kinda the same thing (vice versa). I can tell them, ‘Oh, yeah, we liked to run this.’ But he’s a coordinator, he knows what he’s doing and again, like coach said, football is football. There’s only so many plays you can run, and you just have to execute.”
The preparation for the Backyard Brawl has been constant, even in the midst of a quarterback competition between himself and Nick Patti, and even as he was officially named the starting quarterback Wednesday, it didn’t affect the way he’s approached the season and WVU as a whole.
“So, regardless of whether you’re announced the guy or not, I think your mentality is the same, your mentality was to be the guy come Sept. 1,” Slovis said. “It’s not like it’s been some huge changing thing, I’ve gotten some more reps, but I’d like to think I’m preparing the same way.”
It’ll be Slovis’s first game at Pitt, his first taste of life as a Panther, and it just happens to come in one of the biggest rivalry games in college football. In three seasons at USC, he played all the top three rivals (Notre Dame, UCLA and Stanford twice each).
2019 – 24/35 — 255 yards — 2-0 / 27-30 L
2021 – 27/37 — 299 yards — 0-1 / 16-31 L
51/71 (72%) — 554 yards — 2-1
2019 – 37/47 — 515 yards — 4-0 / 52-35 W
2020 – 30/47 — 344 yards — 5-2 / 43-38 W
67/94 (71%) — 859 yards — 9-2
2019 – 28/33 — 377 yards — 3-0 / 42-20 W
2021 – 27/42 — 233 yards — 1-1 / 28-42 L
55/75 (73%) — 610 yards — 4-1
In the six games against USC’s top rivals, going 3-3, Slovis threw for 2,023 yards and 15 touchdowns to four interceptions on 173-of-240 (72%) passing attempts. While it’ll be Slovis’s first Backyard Brawl, it’s obviously not his first rivalry game, and it’s those rivalry games that every player — regardless of the level of the game — gets excited to be a part of.
“It’s a big game, it’s a different environment, but I love playing in big games,” Slovis said. “I think every player loves playing in big games, from your high school rival to college, everyone’s favorite game is a rivalry game. So, obviously, you feel prepared, but more so just feel excited.”
With just a week until the Brawl, the preparation has already begun. The sessions in the Aaron Donald Performance Center have an increased intensity, with friendly reminders to go a little harder, and former Pitt stars have returned to give their piece on the spectacle that is the Backyard Brawl.
And at Thursday’s practice, John Denver’s Country Roads was the song of choice for warmups, “take me hooooome,” echoing across the Monongahela.