The Spring Game Only Cemented the Present and Future of Pitt’s Quarterback Room
Pat Narduzzi all but named Phil Jurkovec as Pitt’s starting quarterback a couple of weeks ago, and nothing that has been said or done since contradicts that.
Jurkovec was the big-time transfer addition, the hometown kid whose greatest college success came with Frank Cignetti Jr. at Boston College, but both Narduzzi and Cignetti emphasized that he wouldn’t just waltz into Kedon Slovis’ vacated starting spot.
Pitt added Christian Veilleux from Penn State and returned Nate Yarnell to set up a three-way quarterback competition. But it’s clear now following the conclusion of spring practice that Jurkovec is the No. 1 quarterback.
“You gotta look at the whole spring,” Cignetti said following the spring game. “He had 15 consistent days out there. Wow, I thought he had a great spring. I saw him grow as a person. I saw him get better as a player.
“I saw 15 days of making good, decisive decisions. Not only in the passing game, but he made good run checks, good protection adjustments. And the other two seasons I worked with Phil, he probably threw the ball better than I’ve been around him.”
Jurkovec led the starting offense out on the field at Acrisure Stadium Saturday, and while it was a bit of a slow start, it didn’t take long to round into form. He led the offense’s second scoring drive, completing all three of his pass attempts for 40 yards.
He didn’t have to do too much, but he stood in the pocket, gave his wide receivers a chance to make plays (Bub Means in particular) and looked pretty comfortable.
“I really had fun out there,” Jurkovec said after the spring game. “I didn’t play a whole lot, but whenever I did, it was a good time being able to see it out on the field, envisioning what the environment will be like in the fall.”
He finished the day 5-of-7 for 51 yards. Veilleux was just as solid, if not a bit better.
Veilleux led the second offense against the first defense, and Cignetti wanted him to get the ball out quickly. And he did — successfully. He connected on all of his high-percentage throws, taking what the defense allowed and commanding the offense well. He threw the game’s only touchdown toss, too — a dump-off to Derrick Davis Jr.
It was a nearly perfect drive executed by Veilleux. “What a great drive,” Cignetti said. “Was that not pretty?” He finished the day 6-of-9 for 74 yards and a touchdown, and Cignetti lauded the potential Veilleux offers.
“Christian did a great job making quick, decisive decisions,” Cignetti said. “He threw the ball with accuracy. We really made some nice plays that drive, and once again, Christian is a talented young man. We have a talented quarterback room, and it’s not where he is, but it’s where he’s going to be. We’re really excited about where Christian is going as a quarterback.”
To me, it sounds like Pitt has found its quarterbacks of the present and the future.
Could Veilleux start this coming season and succeed? I think so. Will he? If called upon. But after a spring in which Jurkovec said and did all the right things, bringing both the moxie and the kind of out-in-the-backyard kind of playing style that was missed last season, it’s his offense.
It does help that Jurkovec has experience working with Cignetti, spending two seasons together at BC from 2020-21. Of course, there have been discussions between Cignetti, Jurkovec and Jon DiBiaso about just how much that added familiarity has contributed to Jurkovec’s consistency this spring. A third season in Cignetti’s offense helps a lot.
Narduzzi’s “competitive but positive environment,” as Cignetti calls it, helps, too.
But at the same time, despite the familiarity in both location and with Cignetti, both are new-ish to Jurkovec right now. He’s certainly had to re-learn the offense.
“I think I had to adapt back to the offense, switching last year to a different offense and now coming back to coach Cignetti’s offense, it’s just kinda re-learning it,” Jurkovec said. “But it’s come back quickly. It’s a whole ‘nother spring ball, so it’s just more experience.”
Does he feel like he put together the spring season he wanted to?
“Yeah, I do.
“Just because we took it day by day. There were 15 practices. I thought we came off the field saying each day that we did a lot of good things. We strung together 15 solid practices, so we’re proud of that.”
Pitt has a few good quarterbacks on the roster, which includes Yarnell, of course, but the order has sorted itself out as the spring has concluded. It’s Jurkovec, Veilleux and Yarnell. And that speaks volumes to the present and future of Pitt football.