Frank Cignetti Jr. has learned to appreciate the little things, the moments of fostering relationships that transcend results on the football field, and he felt like Tuesday night’s meeting with his quarterbacks was the perfect opportunity to teach.
It’s not just about opposing pass coverages or passing concepts either, it’s life. It’s about teaching the next generation through whatever means necessary.
Pitt has used three quarterbacks this season, Kedon Slovis, Nick Patti and Nate Yarnell, and it hasn’t been what many thought would be. Cignetti still preaches positivity in every aspect of the game.
“As a teacher, you want to be positive, and the big thing we want to do is if someone makes a mistake, you want to correct it,” Cignetti said Wednesday So, hopefully, it doesn’t happen again.
“Our offensive meeting Sunday, the approach we took is, ‘Hey guys, we’re all disappointed we have three losses. We’re all disappointed.’ But you gotta move forward, and when you’re watching that tape on Sunday, my words walking in there were, ‘Hey, that loss hurt, we worked hard and winning football games is not easy, but we’ve gotta take a look at this film, take a look at the mistakes and learn from it.'”
Slovis made his mistakes against Louisville. He wasn’t alone, but he made some back-breaking decisions that cost the team. He completed 16-of-29 passing attempts for a season-low 158 yards and two interceptions. Despite the mistakes, Cignetti is still eager to continue to coach and teach his quarterback — to correct the mistakes.
Cignetti worked with Slovis and all the quarterbacks on Sunday and again on Tuesday night in order to continue the education. It wasn’t so much as the winning and losing on the football field but the ability to pass on the knowledge and wisdom he’s accrued through the years and pass it on Slovis and the quarterbacks room as a whole.
And Cignetti trusts Slovis, even with the mistakes made on the field Saturday.
“Kedon’s done some great things out there,” Cignetti said. “First off, playing quarterback is very difficult. I just think about all the great quarterbacks I’ve been around in my life, it’s hard. Kedon’s done a very nice job preparing himself, he’s done a great job in the run game in terms of run checks and protection checks. In terms of the passing game, there’s always gonna be plays that you want back.”
Cignetti pointed to Slovis’s first interception, an underthrown ball into tight coverage, as a mistake. Plain and simple. It’s a play Slovis would certainly like to have back, but he also asked what quarterback wouldn’t like to have a handful of plays back throughout a game?
“Kedon is progressing, unfortunately when you take look at the season, the second game of the season, Kedon goes down with a concussion,” Cignetti said. “Loses a week. Hopefully, as we stay healthy here, we’re going to see continued success and better play with Kedon.”
Pitt’s offensive performance against Louisville was particularly disappointing coming off the bye week, nearly two weeks to prep, prepare and work on what’s ailed the stagnant passing attack this season, but Cignetti has hope for the future. Pat Narduzzi does too, and they’re both all-in on Slovis.
The idea of pulling Slovis didn’t cross Narduzzi’s mind at any point against Louisville, not after a poor first half or during a slow, stalled-out second half. He said there’s a psychological effect to consider when pulling a quarterback in the middle of the game. And he’s confident he has no better option.
“Again, I watch practice every day, and we’re playing our best football player right now at quarterback,” Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I’ve got no doubt about it. Kedon is our best quarterback to help us win a football game right now.
“If you guys want to be able to have a scrimmage and you bring somebody in, you guys watch and tell me afterward, but right now that’s kind of where we are, and we can start all over if you guys want to, but that’s not something I’m very fond of as a football coach.”
Narduzzi said that the team believes in its players at every position, a concept not exclusive to just the quarterback spot, and it’s up to the coaching staff to put the players in the right position to make plays. The coaching cannot stop at any point this season.
And despite a season in which Slovis has completed 107-of-177 pass attempts (60.5%) for 1,325 yards and five touchdowns to five interceptions, Narduzzi has felt like his quarterback has played well.
“I think he’s done a great job,” Narduzzi said. “It’s like we talked as an offense yesterday, last night. Kedon played above average, above average. I thought he played good. As a matter of fact, at one point he was 9 of 11, which I didn’t realize.
“I don’t count those things, but 9-of-11 at one point, but he played really good in the first half. I’m not just talking throwing the ball. If you just go back and watch the first half, watch how — he’s making great decisions in the run game, as well, and getting the right checks.”
Narduzzi said that Slovis didn’t play very well in the second half. Slovis accounted for 46 pass yards in the second half. He also pointed to Slovis taking some shots at the end of the first half and said Pitt has to protect its quarterback better.
“So yeah, we’ve got to protect our quarterback,” Narduzzi said. “We know that. That’s a key every weekend. But he played really good in the first half and didn’t play so good in the second half.
“Even in the run decisions that you guys won’t see, watch it, you’re just going to say the O-line didn’t block anybody; well, we’re running into a problem. That’s something we’ve got to work on and fix and find out why. That’s our job.”
With five games left on the schedule, Pitt no longer controls its own destiny at 4-3 (1-2 ACC). With games against North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia, Duke and Miami, Pitt has the chance to rise to the challenge offensively against some opponents with national recognition.
It hasn’t been easy for Slovis this season, hasn’t been easy for anyone of the offense as a whole, but he’s the guy going forward. Narduzzi — for better or worse — has faith in Slovis, and Cignetti is looking forward to continuing to coach for a breakout.
It isn’t just the coaching staff that believes in Slovis either. It’s his teammates too.
Before Tylar Wiltz left the locker room after Tuesday’s practice, he stopped by Kedon Slovis’s locker. He told his quarterback that Slovis has the face of America. He’s working hard. Each and every week, keeping his head up. And when Wiltz laughed with him?
“It was that All-American smile,” Wiltz said Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “You should’ve seen it. From ear to ear.”