Despite a five drive stretch to open the game against Georgia Tech in which Slovis went 2-of-9 for eight yards, Pat Narduzzi never considered pulling his starting quarterback.
In Narduzzi’s eyes, Slovis is — without a doubt — the best quarterback on the roster. He pointed to the offensive bounceback in the second half, Slovis’s short-term memory in brushing off a poor start, to highlight the potential of a Slovis-led offense.
And while a Slovis-led offense does have potential, it needs to be complemented with a Frank Cignetti Jr. offense that allows his natural talent to rise to the forefront.
Slovis threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia Tech. Looks good, right? The first half featured a 6-of-16 for 61 yards and a touchdown performance — including 4-of-6 for 53 yards (and the touchdown) on the final offensive possession.
“Just felt like we didn’t get into a rhythm, there’s a lot of probably different reasons, but at the end of the day we’ve gotta execute better,” Slovis said at Acrisure Stadium following Saturday’s game. “It starts with me and it starts with me getting the guys going.”
There was a better showing in the second half, but it was more of a late fourth quarter explosion than a complete second half performance.
After a poor first half, Slovis completed 19-of-29 passing attempts for 244 yards and two touchdowns and an interception in the second. But in the first five second half possessions, he went 10-of-14 for 92 yards and an interception. That’s a three-and-a-half-quarter showing that would make most raise an eyebrow.
Narduzzi’s faith (when it comes to the Georgia Tech game) comes from a two drive stretch in which Slovis completed 9-of-15 passing attempts for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Against a lax, prevent Georgia tech defense, to be fair. Was Slovis better in the second half? Yes. How much better though?
Narduzzi was pleased with the way Slovis performed in the second half. And when he reflected upon the first half struggles Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, he wasn’t ready to place the blame on Slovis’s shoulders either.
With just nine plays ran in the first quarter, three straight three and outs, Narduzzi lamented how Pitt wasn’t able to get into any sort of rhythm. It’s difficult to get into any sort of rhythm with just nine almost isolated plays in which the offense as a whole is out of sync.
“The first attempt, the first play of the game, we go to throw it,” Narduzzi said. “We got a guy that’s wide, wide open, okay? Kedon can’t see him because there’s a protection issue, then takes a hit. Just start off in that place.
“Second play is a drop. You can talk completions. In the NFL or college football, you catch it or you don’t. Everybody has to help him too. Completions aren’t all on the quarterback.”
It was a chilly, rainy day in Pittsburgh Saturday, the remnants of Hurricane Ian lasting throughout much of the first half, and Narduzzi felt like Pitt didn’t handle the drizzle well enough in the first half. However, he felt like Slovis was able to feel cool and collected in the pocket Saturday regardless.
“I think he’s really comfortable back there,” Narduzzi said. “You see how he sits in the pocket, throws the ball. He’s not afraid to sit back there, take a shot and throw the ball. He does it. That’s what you have to do.”
But when it comes to Slovis’s style of play, he’s not a scrambler. He isn’t a player who will typically look to take a play with his legs. He’s a quarterback who will operate best in the pocket, able to make use of solid footwork and an NFL-caliber arm. Narduzzi said it’s on the coaching staff to put him — and Pitt as a whole — in positions to make plays.
“There’s a lot of blame to go around; it starts with me and the coaches,” Narduzzi said. “I’ve said already after the game, our job as coaches is to put the kids in position to be successful. As you keep going, that’s what we have to do, is put them in better positions to be successful.”
Slovis is a veteran quarterback who has already experienced major success at the collegiate level. He hasn’t had an easy go of it this season, dealing with an injury that sidelined him for a game and a half and led to a slow comeback against Rhode Island a week before Georgia Tech, but it’s clear Pitt’s offensive scheme hasn’t allowed him to showcase what drew Pitt to secure his signature in the transfer portal over the offseason.
It may have come against Georgia Tech’s prevent defense, but when Pitt’s offense opened up and stretched the field, Slovis performed his best. He was still a step or two slow — even in the fourth quarter — against GT, but he was also shaking off rust.
With another home matchup against a lackluster Virginia Tech team this weekend, it will be an opportunity for both Slovis and Pitt’s offense to prove there is no rust going forward into ACC play. The Western Michigan loss last season was a wake-up call for the defense. For the sake of Pitt’s season, the Georgia Tech loss needs to be the same for Pitt’s offense this season.