Kedon Slovis is still the guy, that hasn’t and won’t change.
And while Nick Patti has done nothing to lose the backup job behind Slovis, working back from a lower-body injury of his own, Pat Narduzzi and Frank Cignetti Jr. suddenly have another option to work with in the quarterback room.
“I know we know a lot more, have a lot more faith with what Nate (Yarnell) did on game day,” Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “You can see him in practice, on the scout field. When you see how a guy operates in a game, it definitely gives you — we have another piece to the puzzle you may have to use at some other point in the season. Who knows when, where. Gives you just another guy.”
It comes down to how practice goes, Narduzzi said, as it does with every position on the roster.
The trio of Slovis, Yarnell and Derek Kyler traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan over the weekend, but it was Yarnell who got the start against Western Michigan. And in his first college football game, first competitive football game in nearly three years, he played as well as could be expected.
Yarnell guided Pitt to a 34-13 win over Western Michigan, completing 9-of-12 passing attempts for 179 yards and a touchdown. It was a dream start for Yarnell, but it was also a shot of confidence for Narduzzi when examining the future of the position — once Slovis and Patti have moved on.
“You don’t know what you have,” Narduzzi said. “You don’t know in August what you have because (Yarnell’s) getting reps with the freshmen and the threes. Nate Yarnell has never taken a snap in a scrimmage with the ones or twos, never. After practice every Tuesday, we have what we call Showtime. Those guys get to go out, get a period of that, to continue to develop all our young guys, which I think is a critical period for us, as long as health-wise you can do that.”
That’s it. The extent of Yarnell’s game preparation through a little over a year and a half with the program. He was getting a chance to shine during Showtime, about six minutes per practice, and it all came against the other threes on the roster. Not exactly a way for Narduzzi and the coaching staff to see exactly how Yarnell would perform in a game. But he knew what he had in Yarnell as a kid.
“(Yarnell’s) tough,” Narduzzi said. “Got leadership qualities, let’s put it that way. He didn’t crumble. He wasn’t nervous. He fights linebackers. He looks nice, mild-mannered. I guess he’s angry inside. I don’t know.”
Yarnell earned the trust of the coaching staff over the week of practice leading up to the Western Michigan game, edging out Kyler to pick up the start in place of Slovis. And he had full control of the offense when it came to making checks and operating
“(Yarnell’s) not looking to the sideline, coach, go with it, check what? He’s not looking to the sideline, he’s doing it all by himself. For a young guy to go out there and do that, it’s impressive.
“He did an awful lot of it, too. If we didn’t, we would have run into a lot of walls inside. So, that’s the most impressive thing. People can change defense. When we look to the sideline, you can change the defense. You can’t change it when the quarterback is making the decision out there by himself, and the cadence.”
It was an encouraging effort for the present and future of Pitt’s quarterback room, and while he likely — hopefully — won’t see a ton of play time the rest of the way this season, Pitt clearly has found another quarterback with potential.