Column | It’s time Pitt makes a change at quarterback


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt senior quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) throws the ball during a game against Georgia Tech earlier this month.

By Dalton Coppola, Sports Editor

Pitt football lost three games over the course of an entire season last year. The Panthers have lost three games this year, and October isn’t even over yet. This year is a disappointment, no matter how anyone looks at it. Pitt had a real opportunity to use 2021 as a launching pad to sustained excellence. But the Panthers have returned to Earth, falling to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in conference play.

So much of the team from last year returned for the 2022 campaign. Then why did the Panthers fall flat on their face this year?

It’s a tired and drawn-out reason to point at, but it boils down to one position — the quarterback.

One position that experienced turnover is quarterback. We all know how great Kenny Pickett was last year, making the trip to Manhattan for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony. As much as I want to, I promise I won’t use this space to gush over Pickett.

But many believed the Panthers would be fine without him. After all, Pitt brought in a budding star with transfer Kedon Slovis taking the reins of the offense. If Slovis plays half as well as Pickett did, the Panthers can sleepwalk to Charlotte for another crack at the ACC Championship.

Unfortunately, Slovis has not done so. Everyone, including fans, media and Pitt’s coaches, underestimated how important Pickett was to this offense’s success.

The biggest discrepancy between Slovis and Pickett is their decision making. Honestly, Slovis is a talented player. He has proved that he can dominate defenses when he has the right tools and the right gameplan around him. But ever since he left the game against Tennessee with an injury, Slovis’ decision-making is sub-par.

He’s taking just a hair too long to make decisions. He’s holding the ball for too long, not hitting open windows in the zone coverage and subjecting himself to pressure. Not only is he waiting too long to start his throwing motion, he’s not throwing to the right guy.

Fans who watched from home saw how poor his decisions were on Saturday night. The broadcast showed wide angles of the open receivers when Slovis forced the ball downfield to a double-covered receiver. 

Slovis needed to avoid turning the ball over to win on Saturday — he turned it over in Louisville territory three times himself. Head Coach Pat Narduzzi said after the win against Virginia Tech that Slovis needs to play better. After Saturday’s uninspiring performance, Narduzzi doubled down and said Slovis is still the team’s starting quarterback.

“Yes,” Narduzzi said in response to a question asking if Slovis is the team’s starter going forward.

That’s it. A quick and simple message, with no rationale behind it. Narduzzi always keeps his cards close to his chest and it seems this situation is no different. The head coach also said, “When we lose, everyone wants to point the finger at the quarterback,” Narduzzi said. “We don’t point fingers in our locker room — you guys can point fingers all you want.” 

It’s hard not to, though. When a team gets into enemy territory and the quarterback turns the ball over three times, the blame falls there. This isn’t an issue that Pitt can fix within a week. But clearly the Slovis experiment isn’t working, and he hasn’t proved that he can lead this offense.  Slovis did not speak with the media after the game.

Offensive Coordinator Frank Cignetti is calling plays for a quarterback he doesn’t trust, and it shows. The run-heavy offense is too predictable and teams are stacking the box, stuffing runs with ease. 

Maybe it’s time Narduzzi and Cignetti consider playing another quarterback. The Panthers could reward senior Nick Patti for his time served as a backup. Or they can start building toward the future with redshirt first-year Nate Yarnell.

Yarnell has just one collegiate start, coming against Western Michigan when both Patti and Slovis nursed injuries. At this point, a conference championship isn’t feasible and the ceiling for this season is a mediocre bowl game now. So why not let the young quarterback get some experience? 

It’s hard to imagine Narduzzi making a change. But that doesn’t mean he’s making the right decision.

Pitt has the chance to bounce back next week against the UNC Tarheels. The game will kickoff in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. at 8 p.m. and air on ACC Network.