One of the big storylines of the early part of the season for Tennessee football was whether or not the departure of Kenny Pickett at quarterback would give the Vols an advantage in their matchup with the Pittsburgh Panthers. They obviously want revenge from last year’s 41-34 loss at home, and quarterback play is a huge part in that.
Well, on Wednesday, Pitt named USC Trojans transfer Kedon Slovis its new starting quarterback in its opener against the West Virginia Mountaineers. Slovis beat out redshirt senior Nick Patti to win the job, and it’s now likely the Vols will face him in the second game of the season.
What does this all mean for Tennessee football? Well, depending on what you believe, it could be good or bad. If you believe Slovis is the quarterback he was his first year starting at USC, the Vols are in bigger trouble than they were when facing Pickett last year.
However, if you believe that Slovis’ regression will continue, well, it’s a safe bet that UT finally beats Pitt, a team it’s shockingly winless against. Pitt’s a huge game for the Vols, though, as a win will likely set them up to be 3-0 when they face the Florida Gators at the end of September.
Anyway, Slovis looked like a future superstar in 2019 with USC, completing 282 of 392 passes (71.9 percent) for 3,502 yards (8.9 yards per attempt), 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions. However, he got worse each year after that.
In 2020, Slovis completed 177 of 264 passes (67 percent) for 1,921 yards (7.3 yards per attempt), 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. A banged up elbow and the COVID-shortened season were legitimate excuses for that, though.
Then came last year. Fully healthy and without the COVID distractions, Slovis got inexplicably worse. He completed 193 of 297 passes (65 percent) for 2,153 yards (7.2 yards per attempt), 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions as Clay Helton was fired.
So which Slovis will show up? Was he figured out later in his career? Did injuries bother him more? Does Helton bear the brunt of his regression? Honestly, none of us know. Tennessee football will benefit the most, though, from the first possibility.
Of course, there’s a chance that Slovis is unproductive against WVU and then either losing his starting job or getting hurt agains the Vols, making it Patti’s time to shine. Last year, Hendon Hooker’s first game of real action was against Pitt after Joe Milton III got hurt, and he nearly pulled off the victory.
At the moment, though, it’s a safe bet that Slovis will be the starter when UT heads to town. Given how elite we know PItt’s defense to be and what we know about the Vols, the game will come down to which Slovis is the real Slovis.
Of course, losing Jordan Addison hurts Pitt too, but what’s relevant to Tennessee football is the play of Slovis, especially given the issues they faced in the secondary last year. As a result, we don’t yet know what this means for the Vols. However, if last year is any indication, it’s probably a good sign for them.