Takeaways | Slovis deserves credit, Panthers can still run without Abanikanda


Nate Yonamine | Staff Photographer

Syracuse sophomore defensive back Ja’Had Carter (1) catches an interception during Pitt football’s game against Syracuse at Acrisure Stadium.

By Jermaine Sykes, Staff Writer

Coming into Saturday’s game against Syracuse, things didn’t look good for the Panthers. With a three-game losing streak and playing without their star running back, the Panthers seemed outmatched against No. 20 Syracuse. 

But just like the sun on that beautiful Saturday evening, Pitt’s defense shined and the Panthers prevailed, upsetting the Orange 19-9 and moving to 5-4.

Here are my takeaways.

Give Slovis his flowers

Maybe we’re being too hard on senior quarterback Kedon Slovis. It wasn’t a very successful day for the Panthers’ passing offense, but Slovis did enough to get the Panthers a win.

Besides a bonehead interception early in the game, Slovis played well against an elite defense. His 176 yards against Syracuse was the second-highest yardage the Orange have allowed all season to a quarterback. 

I get the pushback on Slovis — he’s not what we expected. But does his performance so far warrant boos from the student section when his name is announced as the starter? That’s just harsh.

Slovis has battled through tons of adversity this season. From injuries to bad play to tough breaks, this season hasn’t just been a rollercoaster for the signal caller — it’s been the worst of his career. Still, he’s looking to make the most of a rough season.

“You just got to keep trying to improve and get better,” Slovis said following the game. “Football is a game of ups and downs.”

Say what you want about Slovis’ play, but his composure is probably a reason head coach Pat Narduzzi hasn’t moved to Nick Patti or Nate Yarnell yet.

“No,” Narduzzi said when asked if he considered a quarterback change after Slovis’ interception. “Not even close.”

No Abanikanda, No problem for RBU

The Panthers were short-handed in the backfield Saturday, missing ACC rushing leader junior Israel Abanikanda. While the Panthers surely missed Abanikanda, they didn’t need him, putting up another 160-plus yard day on the ground.

Sophomore Rodney Hammond Jr. led the charge in the backfield, rushing for 124 yards and a touchdown. His performance allowed the Panthers to control the clock and continue their success on the ground.

Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. and Narduzzi have fully embraced the run this season. The main reason for their shift away from a pass-first offense is because of the talent in the Panthers’ backfield. 

“I loved the way C’Bo ran,” Narduzzi said. “Rodney did well, and we were able to get it done with [Abanikanda] out.”

Senior running back C’Bo Flemister, to the delight of Narduzzi, added 42 yards and a touchdown to the Panthers’ running game.

“To go out there and affect the game in a positive manner, it felt awesome,” Flemister said. 

Running Back University, or RBU, will need to continue its success on the ground if they want to pull out a needed sixth win. Getting Abanikanda back will help that. 

Panthers’ defense takes advantage of undermanned Orange

Inconsistencies have plagued the Panthers’ defense all year. In some games they look dominant, in other games they give up four touchdowns in the fourth quarter. 

Saturday the Panthers had one of their best performances of the year. 

The Orange, who averaged 32 points per game prior to Saturday, put up just nine. A part of this was the absence of junior quarterback Garrett Shrader. The Panthers held first-year backup quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson to just eight completions and 120 yards. 

“The coverage was great,” Narduzzi said. “We got after the quarterback and that was the difference.”

For the Orange, their struggles running the ball were far more concerning than their struggles passing the ball. Coming into Saturday, sophomore running back Sean Tucker was second in ACC rushing yards, only behind Abanikanda. The Panthers smothered Tucker on Saturday, holding him to a season-low 10 carries and 19 yards. 

“We played angry,” Narduzzi said. “Coach Partridge did a great job of getting the defense ready to go today. And they showed up.”

The Panthers added the exclamation point on a great performance with a game-winning safety on a sack by senior defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre. After a month of inconsistency by the Panthers’ defense, Alexandre thinks this game gives confidence for the group moving forward. 

“No matter what we go through we’re going to continue pushing,” Alexandre said. “We’ll never put our heads down, we’re going to keep fighting.”

The Panthers travel to Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday to battle the University of Virginia Cavaliers. Fans can watch the game at noon on the ACC network.