It’s not as if quarterback was the only position that held Pitt back at times last season, but I would say that it was one of the only positions that did not make strides throughout the season.
And that’s not counting Nick Patti’s inspired Sun Bowl showing.
Look, I don’t want to pile on Kedon Slovis, but he actively held Pitt back at times last season. It wasn’t solely his fault. But I can think of a couple of games where his play negatively impacted Pitt’s chance of winning — and ultimately resulted in losses.
Slovis will spend his final collegiate season at BYU, and the quarterback room is full of new faces. Transfers in Phil Jurkovec and Christian Veilleux and a freshman in Ty Dieffenbach. The only holdover is Nate Yarnell, who did make one start last season.
When spring ball kicked off in March, Frank Cignetti Jr. talked about how instead of a two-man battle, a la Slovis-Patti, Pitt was working three quarterbacks early in the spring. Well. It didn’t take long for Jurkovec to emerge as the leader. Two weeks later, Pat Narduzzi basically named a starter.
“(Jurkovec’s) been outstanding, like we thought,” Narduzzi said in early April. “… Christian and Nate are in a battle right now, and Ty’s done some really nice things. They’re in a battle for that No. 2 spot.”
So. Did the spring game change anything? No, not really. Jurkovec completed 5-of-7 pass attempts for 51 yards, and Veilleux completed 6-of-9 pass attempts for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Both looked pretty solid, but it’s clear that Jurkovec is the guy going forward.
Phil Jurkovec — Sixth
There’s a lot riding on Jurkovec this season. This is it. He’s a sixth-year senior with one last season of eligibility.
His career has been anything but conventional, especially as he’s moved from Notre Dame to Boston College and now back home to Pitt, but he’s flashed potential every step of the way. He’s just never been able to put it together.
After an excellent debut season at Boston College in 2020, with Frank Cignetti Jr. as his offensive coordinator, injuries derailed what was supposed to be a true breakout season in 2021. Cignetti left for Pitt in 2022, and Jurkovec tanked in 2022 as he dealt with poor offensive line play and further injuries.
In three seasons at Boston College, Jurkovec completed 404-of-679 passing attempts (59.5%) for 5,183 yards with 35 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. And he added 429 yards and nine touchdowns on 195 attempts.
In his debut season at Boston College, with Cignetti calling plays, Jurkovec completed 61% of his pass attempts for 2,558 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions — adding 150 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The 2022 season was a disaster, as he completed 59.5% of his passes for 1,711 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight games. It was also the first negative rushing season of his career. To put it frankly, it was bad. He was bad.
But. But. He’s joined a better team. There isn’t a Zay Flowers at Pitt, but the offensive line is better, the running backs are better and his weapons in the passing game are more than sufficient.
And maybe most importantly, he’s back in the offense where he experienced his greatest success. Kedon Slovis wasn’t a fit. Jurkovec is — as long as he’s able to stay healthy.
Slovis lacked the leadership and ability to extend plays last season. He was a statue in the pocket. We cannot speak to Jurkovec’s ability to stay healthy — and on his feet — but he’s already earned the trust and respect of his teammates.
“He’ll go out there and make a play, and I think a lot of guys on this team really respect that, kinda really respect a guy with moxie,” Blake Zubovic said in the spring. “He’s a team guy, he’s down to earth and a lot of us knew him in high school. So, it’s not the first time we’ve met him. He’s gonna be a good fit in this team, I already know it.”
And after a full spring session, all but being named the starter over the course of the spring, he’s rebuilt that connection with Cignetti and the offense as a whole.
“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.”
If Jurkovec is good in 2023, Pitt will be very good in 2023.
Christian Veilleux — R-So.
Veilleux spent two seasons at Penn State, but he was never truly given a chance to make his mark at quarterback. And that’s important.
In his lone start (which was in relief of PSU starter Sean Clifford late in the first quarter) at Penn State, inserted against Rutgers, he completed 14-of-25 pass attempts for 235 yards and three touchdowns.
Veilleux doesn’t have the experience that Jurkovec does, but he does have the pedigree and arm talent — and confidence — to push Jurkovec every step of the way. And it appears that Veilleux is a big part of Pitt’s long-term plans.
“Christian did a great job making quick, decisive decisions,” Cignetti said after the spring game. “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.”
What does that sound like? To me, it sounds like Veilleux is Pitt’s long-term option at quarterback. As Jurkovec has one season remaining, Veilleux has three. Even if Veilleux doesn’t touch the field in 2023, he will have two full seasons of eligibility remaining.
And if Jurkovec is hurt or struggles in 2023, Veilleux is waiting in the wings. A very, very capable option for Cignetti and the coaching staff. Seriously. Veilleux is ready.
Nate Yarnell — R-So.
I really do like Yarnell. He’s a good quarterback who throws a nice football.
In his one and only start at Pitt, he did everything that was asked of him in a win at Western Michigan last season. He’s also the only quarterback on the roster to have made a start at Pitt.
If he makes a start in 2023, while I think Pitt would be more than okay, it will mean that injuries were a massive problem. I cannot envision a single scenario where Narduzzi would bench his top two options to play Yarnell in a game.
Yarnell, realistically, is one of the better No. 3 quarterbacks in college football right now. But that’s all he’ll be going forward, even if he’s teased as a challenger for Veilleux.
Ty Dieffenbach — Fr.
Dieffenbach is a really big quarterback who throws a nice football — in non-live situations. I’d say I’ve never seen him throw live, but… well, ask P.J. O’Brien about that.
He’s incredibly raw and needs time to develop at this point, and in his case, he will get exactly that opportunity to develop behind Jurkovec, Veilleux and Yarnell.
Walk-On: Eli Kosanovich, Jake Frantl, David Lynch