PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh showed a lot of faith in football coach Pat Narduzzi this offseason with a nine-year contract.
The biggest job for Narduzzi to make good on that show of faith will be to prove that the 2021 season wasn’t a fluke. The Panthers went 11-3 and won their first Atlantic Coast Conference title, but did so with a high-powered offense run by quarterback Kenny Pickett and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.
Pickett is one of the top quarterback prospects in the NFL draft and Whipple departed for Nebraska in the offseason, making re-forming the offense the top job for Narduzzi this spring.
The top candidates for Pitt’s quarterback job in 2022 are redshirt senior Nick Patti and Southern California transfer Kedon Slovis, and they made their first case to the public in the Pitt Blue-Gold spring game at Heinz Field on Saturday.
Patti played sparingly in three season as Pickett’s backup. He got a golden chance to cement his status as the favorite when Pickett opted out of the Peach Bowl, but suffered a broken collarbone in the game.
Now healthy, Patti started for the gold squad Saturday, completing four of nine passes for 108 yards in his first competitive action since the injury.
“It was awesome,” Patti said. “I’m a competitor through and through. I was telling Coach Duzz to take the red jersey off. … It was nice to be back out there.”
Slovis transferred into Pitt this winter after three up-and-down seasons at USC. He was phenomenal as a freshman in 2019, throwing for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns. But the pandemic-shortened 2020 season didn’t seem to do his development any favors and an injury impacted his 2021 season.
Slovis completed 10 of 21 for 64 yards on Saturday. With a new team and a new landscape, he is hoping the change of landscape at Pitt can springboard his career back to the heights of his freshman season.
“Teammates, coaching staff, didn’t know who the (offensive coordinator) was going to be until I got on campus but everyone’s really just impressed me,” Slovis said. “Just really glad to be part of that.”
Running the show for the Pitt offense is now Frank Cignetti Jr., who came over from Boston College to replace Whipple. Despite Patti’s grater experience at Pitt, the new system means a fresh start for both players.
“It was definitely a learning experience for all of us coming with a new offense,” Patti said. “It was learning a lot of new stuff that Coach Cig wanted to do. I think he did a good job meshing it with what we had and just making the transition easier on us.”
Regardless of who wins the quarterback battle, the new scheme should be less quarterback-heavy after Pitt threw 367 times with Pickett in 2021.
“Definitely a little more running the ball than we did in the past,” said running back Daniel Carter, who scored twice while playing for both teams on Saturday.
If the offense — and particularly the quarterbacks — can hold up their end of the bargain, the Panthers are well positioned to again contend for the ACC Coastal Division title, and perhaps more.
“We have a lot of aspirations,” Slovis said. “We talk about winning the ACC, but again, you can go further than that. You can talk about a lot of great things. We have to get the details right. We have to get a lot better this offseason. If we do that, I think the sky is the limit.”