In Thursday night’s Backyard Brawl, West Virginia offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell and Pittsburgh quarterback Kedon Slovis will be going against each other for the first time.
The pair worked together at Southern California from 2019-21, as Harrell oversaw Slovis for the first three seasons of his collegiate career prior to the two going their separate ways.
As Thursday inches closer, questions were raised to Harrell if he had any tips or tricks that could help the Mountaineers defense gain an edge on Slovis and earn a victory in the teams’ first head-to-head match-up in 11 years.
“I know Slovis pretty well, but I think there’s not much I can tell you about that kid that you can’t see on tape,” Harrell said. “He’s a very accurate passer. He does things very well. I’ve talked to our defense about him, but it’s probably a totally different offense than what we were doing at USC.”
Harrell primarily employed an “Air Raid” offense while at USC, which is a fast-paced, pass-heavy gameplan that looks to get the ball to receivers in space and stretch the field. While being known for its downfield component, Air Raid also uses screens and outlet passes to the running backs.
Using this offense, Slovis threw for over 7,500 yards in his time with the Trojans, while tallying 58 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. His best season at USC came as a freshman when he took over for injured quarterback JT Daniels, who is now the starter at West Virginia under Harrell.
Slovis compiled 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions on his way to leading the Trojans to an 8-5 record and an appearance in the Holiday Bowl. In three seasons with Slovis at the helm, USC posted a combined 17-14 record while tallying 31.2 points per game.
Now, Slovis enters a program that comes off of an 11-win, ACC championship season behind quarterback Kenny Pickett and the best offense in school history. Pittsburgh scored 41.4 points and averaged 486.6 yards per game, both program records.
Pittsburgh’s offense will be under the control of new coordinator Frank Cignetti, but the scheme hasn’t changed much according to Panthers offensive tackle Carter Warren in an interview with Sports Illustrated. Which would mean lots of pass attempts for Slovis, similar to what happened at USC, provided it stays similar.
“From that standpoint, you have to figure out what they’re going to do and adjust from that,” Harrell said. “From a scheme standpoint, if (Pittsburgh) ran our scheme, I could tell (our defense) a lot of stuff.”
On the flip side, there is the thought that Slovis could pass along information to his new teammates about Harrell’s coaching.
Thus, Harrell said he had to switch his signs and signals for Daniels and the Mountaineers offense so they couldn’t be picked up.
“From a signal standpoint, we’ve pretty much had to change everything,” Harrell said. “There’s a possibility that (Slovis) can cheat better than I can cheat this week. We’re going to try to protect our signals and change it up from what we did at USC.”
The Mountaineers and Panthers will kickoff at 7:05 p.m. Thursday night at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh. The game will be televised on ESPN, with a special College Gameday pre-game broadcast beginning at 6 p.m.