When Pitt’s offense trotted out onto the field, down a touchdown against West Virginia with just under six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Kedon Slovis didn’t need to give a ‘rah-rah’ speech to get his guys focused.
Slovis, who said following Thursday’s game that he felt the offense found some semblance of consistency on the final drive, completed all five of his attempts on Pitt’s final offensive possession, racking up 73 yards on balls to Rodney Hammond Jr., Konata Mumpfield, Gavin Bartholomew and finally Israel Abanikanda, and it was capped off by a game-tying touchdown pass.
Slovis didn’t need to say anything special to his guys because they’d been there before. There was a mutual understanding.
“Just time to go to work,” Jared Wayne said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “We all get it. We were a championship team last year that had success on offense, so we all understand what we have to do. Just seeing how confident he was, how confident all of us were, he executed and got the win at the end of the day.”
It wasn’t always easy for Pitt’s offense Thursday night, including the wide receiving corps, but Wayne said that’s just what football is all about. But the ups and downs, the adversity and the challenge of sticking together are worthless if a team doesn’t believe. Wayne believes in his team, Pitt believes in itself and Pitt won Thursday night when the clock hit zero.
Wayne may not have made a catch on the final offensive possession, but he led Pitt with 89 yards on three receptions — including a 64-yard catch and run off a quick slant in the third quarter to set up a Hammond touchdown run. Wayne provided the offensive spark when it was desperately needed following a blocked punt by WVU to open the second half.
However, he feels like not just himself but any wide receiver in the room could’ve done the same thing. And it also wouldn’t have been possible without Slovis making the right read on the RPO and firing him the ball or the offensive line blocking upfront.
It comes with the territory. Wayne has been around, he’s grown within the system and now he’s a leader. When he needs to use his voice, he will, but he finds himself leading by example more often than not. When Pitt needed a play, Wayne stepped up. If wide receivers need advice, they’ll often go to him on the sideline. And he will be needed to help correct the mistakes from Thursday.
“I thought Kedon played a really good game, really good, better than I thought when I watched it live,” Pat Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “But he was — we thought he was late with the ball, but there was other issues with some of the routes, and I won’t get into the weeds with that, but there was some — he was waiting on his receivers to get where they needed to be and they weren’t there for whatever reason that we won’t discuss.”
The key for Wayne lies in a detailed approach. Details on routes especially. There were a couple of plays throughout the game where certain wide receivers missed assignments or didn’t approach a play with as detailed an approach as expected.
“It starts in practice,” Wayne said. “Yesterday and today, we’ve been on point, we’re looking good for this week. So, I think we’ll throw the ball down the field a bit more this week and make some big plays.”
While Tennessee returns last season’s starting safety duo of Jaylen McCollough and Trevon Flowers, the pair contributed to one of the SEC’s most porous pass defenses last season. And cornerbacks Alontae Taylor and Theo Jackson have vacated just over 1,600 snaps from last season on the backend of the defense.
It’s a Tennessee secondary that wasn’t stellar last season, and will rely upon production from transfers like Wesley Walker and Andre Turrentine. Regardless of who is lined up across the line of scrimmage though, Wayne isn’t worried about it.
“Whether you’re a fifth-year retuning guy, a senior or a freshman, it doesn’t change anything that we do,” Wayne said. “Whoever lines up in front of you, it’s our job to win our one-on-one. And to get open and catch the ball.”
With Mumpfield and Wayne as Pitt’s top duo, Bub Means and Jaden Bradley will look to add more consistency to their respective games as they stretch the field, and Narduzzi himself said Jaylon Barden did not receive enough snaps Thursday night. It’s a talented unit, and it’s a unit that also doesn’t care who gets targets and when.
“We wanted to send a message with the run game too, so we were looking to get that going,” Wayne said. “That was a big part of our focus in the game plan, but none of us really care about how many targets we’re getting. Obviously, we want the ball, but at the end of the day, all that matters is the W in the win column.”
Pitt scored 38 points against WVU’s defense, which Wayne said is always an indication of a solid night, but there’s still a high, high ceiling that can be reached. Wayne, and the wide receiving corps as a whole, will be looked at to help reach that lofty peak going forward.