It’s no secret that Kedon Slovis’ lone season at Pitt hasn’t gone according to plan.
You never want to be the guy to follow up the guy, but that was Slovis’ fate as he transferred from USC over the winter. And unfortunately for both Slovis and Pitt, his time as Pitt’s starter has been tumultuous.
Pitt’s preseason goal of not just repeating as ACC champions but challenging for the College Football Playoff has skidded to an unceremonious halt, and the current goal of finishing 9-4 with a mid-level bowl win is still within reach.
But it likely will not be possible to achieve without legitimate strides taken by Slovis and the passing attack. The passing attack has been inconsistent all season.
It may be unfair, but let’s compare Pickett and Slovis through the first nine games of the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
|Comp.||Attempts||Pass Yards||Pass TD||INT||Rush Attempts||Rush Yards||Rush TD|
It’s a staggering difference in touchdowns (33 to 6), and it may not be fair to compare Pitt’s 2021 offense to this season’s iteration, but it cannot be ignored.
Even with Israel Abanikanda’s emergence this season, it’s not as if his potential wasn’t recognized last season. Slovis — while still Pitt’s best option moving forward — hasn’t been good enough this season.
However, Pitt’s passing offense has shown flashes of improvement in recent wins. And while Slovis’ stats don’t show it (30-of-47 for 384 yards with a touchdown and an interception over the last two weeks), the deep ball has slowly been phased into the offensive scheme.
Through Pitt’s first six games, missing six quarters due to injury, Slovis completed just 5-of-17 pass attempts over 20 yards for 131 yards with two touchdowns. Over Pitt’s last four games, he’s completed 9-of-18 pass attempts over 20 yards for 291 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
And the improvement in the deep ball offense, at least to Slovis, has resulted from a simple source.
“I think just executing really,” Slovis said Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “Getting those opportunities, you know, we call them a lot too, so I think there’s still more on the field — more for us to hit. It’s definitely a good start.”
Pitt’s offensive success hasn’t been consistent this season, but Slovis feels like his own growth at Pitt this season has been good. He’s grown as a football player individually, but he also said that despite the adversity faced this season, Pitt’s offense has weathered the storm and grown as a unit.
He’s proud of the way Pitt’s offense, at every level, has handled adversity and grown from it. Even as he’s dealt with his own frustrations.
“Yeah, I think there’s not a football season that anyone’s been a part of that they haven’t been frustrated with things or execution or whatnot,” Slovis said. “I think that’s there, but I think that’s there in every season ever played and I think every player’s had that at points too.”
But any frustrations, since a concussion at the end of the first half against Tennessee in Week 2, haven’t been a result of mental or physical drawbacks since the injury. According to Slovis, it’s been more so the struggle of getting back into a rhythm offensively — which, he admitted — has taken a few weeks.
It hasn’t been an issue of confidence either as Slovis and the offense have struggled to find consistency. It’s been more so about developing the offensive flow that’s been missing.
“Because the first play sets up the next and when you kinda have success on first down, it leads to second down,” Slovis said. “So, I think just to flow in terms of offense and how we’re calling it and executing.”
Slovis said that now that Pitt’s offense is in Week 11 of the season, he sees how it operates more effectively than it did back in fall camp. But that doesn’t mean the offense is still learning and picking up offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr.’s new plays each and every week.
“Obviously you’re learning it, but everyone else is learning it,” Slovis said. “(The wide receivers are) running routes a way they’ve probably never run it before, they’re learning it, they’re adjusting, and you see them getting better week in and week out. So, yeah, it’s a big process for everyone. For me, obviously, I haven’t played in an offense like this, I haven’t played in this offense either, so it was a big learning curve for everyone.”
And while a majority of Slovis’ in-game conversation comes with assistant quarterbacks coach Jon DiBiaso, he still engages in the back-and-forth with Cignetti himself — discussing what he saw on the field, how he executed a particular play, etc.
“I think (Cignetti) just loves teaching football,” Slovis said. “We talked the play through and through, we talked about the look we got, what you see to make you go elsewhere, I think we really just talked through the whole play, and he’s hard. He’s a challenging coach, he challenges you to be better.”
Cignetti’s new offense is large, much, much larger than prior offenses ran at Pitt in recent seasons, according to the coaching staff and players, and it’s such a vast offense that Slovis is still implementing new plays into the scheme. His comfort level with individual plays varies based on the implementation date.
“I think certain plays are more comfortable than others,” Slovis said. “I think certain plays at the end of spring camp, you’re like, I get this one. There are other plays too that maybe we installed Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, that you think you get, but you might not understand as well throughout the game. I think there’s some of that.”
It’s a case of understanding plays more and more as time passes, as reps are accrued in practice and in games, and it’s a similar case when it comes to Slovis’ own comfortability in the offense.
It hasn’t been the easiest season for Slovis as he’s adjusted to Pitt’s offense, but in the event of a second season at Pitt, his comfortability and familiarity would only continue to grow. Which may just be the plan.