Kedon Slovis was largely projected to be one of the top-five quarterbacks in the nation heading into the 2021 season, but that quickly fell apart as things went awry at USC and never truly got much better as the season progressed.
After just the second game of the season — a 42-28 loss to Stanford — head coach Clay Helton had been fired as the Trojans opened the season with a 1-1 record that culminated in a dismal 4-8 overall record at the end of the season.
“Last year was pretty rough, to be honest,” Slovis said.
In his own right, Slovis says he felt good coming into the season but some of the issues going on at USC made it difficult for him to be consistently successful.
“Personally, coming off of an injury, I felt like I got a lot of my confidence back in my arm. But a lot of the off-the-field stuff was frustrating,” Slovis said. “Having a coach get fired in the season and dealing with that the whole year and losing some games and having a lot of insecurity around the building. I just tried to stay confident in my ability and really just get through it to get to this year and just building on that confidence during the spring.”
Slovis shouldered a lot of the blame for USC’s shortcomings, though it certainly wasn’t all his fault with other issues on offense and an abundance of negative external factors.
“There was a lot of stuff going on outside of my control last year and some of that does fall on the quarterback,” Slovis said. “The quarterback has a lot of responsibility and you’re in the spotlight, you’re in a position where the blame is getting put on you and it’s understandable because you’re probably getting too much of the recognition as well sometimes. It comes with the process.”
Slovis finished out the year with a 65% completion rate, 2,153 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions, ultimately making the decision to enter the transfer portal in mid-December. He committed to Pitt on Dec. 21 and has two years of eligibility remaining.
He says he feels he’s transitioning well both on and off the field, though there are a lot of differences in the environment he came from and the one he’s in now under head coach Pat Narduzzi.
“It’s been great really. Transferring, you go in and meet an entirely new group of people that you didn’t know before,” Slovis said. “It can be a lot, it can kind of be intimidating. But for the most part, it’s been a pretty smooth transition. Very different mentality, different place, different culture, different everything. But for the most part, I feel like this place fits me pretty well and it’s been a pretty good transition.”
He enters a pro-style offense after playing in a scheme with a lot of Air Raid concepts under Helton. There are some key differences between the two systems, including a more complicated run game element that exists within the Pitt offense. In the end, switching schemes could serve Slovis well and it’s easy to argue that he may have a more smooth transition to the NFL with some time in a pro-style system.
“I think we understand protections more in the offense I’m in this year,” Slovis said. “The O-line and the center are really smart and are really good at picking things up, so they’ll still have a lot of responsibility on their plate but I think for me, just understanding what we’re doing and being able to make adjustments, changing flipper protections and understanding where we’re going with each run. And that’s the other thing, there’s so many nuances in the run game this year.”
Slovis enters an interesting situation, taking over the same program that first-round draft selection Kenny Pickett experienced his meteoric rise in the season after his departure. The transfer signal-caller says he has respect for the standard set by Pickett and the type of expectations there are, but his motivation to take another step this year is more internal than anything else.
“There’s a standard you’d like to live up to and a standard you pride yourself on, but again, to me, I feel like that’s more intrinsically motivated than just because Kenny was here last year,” Slovis said. “Guys know what it looks like, they’ve had a good quarterback and I go in and try to respect the standard and don’t miss a beat. But in some respects, I think even if Kenny didn’t go here last year, I think I’d have the same standards for myself.”
After the struggles of the 2021 season, Slovis does have his doubters. While he doesn’t read too much into that or pay a lot of attention to the outside noise, this is nothing new to the signal-caller.
“I think I’ve always had kind of a chip on my shoulder a little bit being under-recruited out of high school for a lot of different reasons so I think I’ve always kind of had that there. Especially after last year, just not having the season that we wanted as a team,” Slovis said.
Several seem to have forgotten how much success Slovis has shown he can have in a season — he took college football by storm in 2019 when he set the NCAA record for highest completion percentage by a true freshman with 71.9% completion rate, also setting a number of program records despite being unable to finish the final game of the season — the Holiday Bowl — with an elbow injury.
He ended the season with 3,502 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions on 392 passing attempts, very much in the conversation as one of the country’s top quarterbacks ahead of his second season with the Trojans.
He has an opportunity to return to that same status in Pittsburgh and is confident in his abilities as a quarterback to do so, saying he prides himself in his decision-making, accuracy, timing and ability to play a leadership role.
“I feel like I can run this offense pretty well and do it pretty perfectly… I try not to let other people dictate where I’m at or how good I am because I know how good I am, my coaches know how good I am and my teammates know how good I am. At the end of the day, that’s going to come to fruition and show up on the field.”