Shayne Simon has known Phil Jurkovec for a long time, ever since they arrived at Notre Dame together as top recruits in the class of 2018. And Saturday kinda reminded Simon of the old days.
It was like he was watching film of young Phil lighting it up in high school, poised to be one of the next great college quarterbacks.
Jurkovec completed 10-of-12 first half pass attempts for 145 yards, adding a 23-yard score on the ground (a designed keeper that Jurkovec himself was shocked to find so much green before him) and Pitt led 28-0 as the team trotted out of the locker room for the second half. Simon loved it. He loved watching Jurkovec just play ball again.
“I told him halfway through, I think it was the third quarter, I was like, ‘You look like you’re having fun out there, it looks like the old Phil is coming back,’” Simon said after Saturday’s win over Wofford.
And yes, it was just Wofford. And it wasn’t a perfect game from Jurkovec. But it was still just what Pitt wanted to see out of its starting quarterback.
“It felt great, it felt great to be out there on the field playing with those guys,” Jurkovec said after the win. “We put in a lot of work, so it felt good to get the first win.”
Phil the Thrill 🏎️
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) September 2, 2023
Jurkovec finished the day with 214 yards and a touchdown on 17-of-23 pass attempts, and he added 41 yards and another score on the ground, to lead Pitt to a 45-7 season-opening win against Wofford. It took a drive to shake off the rust, but Jurkovec took what Wofford’s defense gave him, worked through his progressions and hit nine different targets in the process.
“He can extend plays, for sure,” Konata Mumpfield said after the win. “You saw him run and get the touchdown, he was just extending plays and getting it to our playmakers.”
And maybe most importantly, he showcased that he can still move just fine for a 6-foot-6, 245-pound quarterback.
“He has got mobility,” Pat Narduzzi said after the win. “Did you see how calm he is in the pocket? He just sits back there. Stuff is flying by him and stuff. I would be a little skittish back there, but he is just so smooth in the pocket. It’s like he doesn’t care.
“That’s what you like is just the moxie he has. A Pine-Richland guy. We’re happy he is playing for Pitt.”
Jurkovec played 58 snaps Saturday, giving way to Christian Veilleux at the end of the third quarter, and he got better and better as the game wore on. He was sharp in the second quarter, leading three consecutive scoring drives. And that second scoring drive featured his favorite throw of the afternoon.
He stood in a clean pocket and fired a back shoulder dart to Gavin Bartholomew in the seam for a 28-yard gain, setting up a 1-yard Daniel Carter touchdown.
“I liked the throw to Gavin on the seam,” Jurkovec said. “I think I gave him a good ball, a back shoulder and he went up and got it. Knowing that we can make that play, I think that will open up a lot.”
But, of course, there’s still work to be done. And Jurkovec acknowledges that. Jurkovec felt like he left a bit on the field in “missing” Mumpfield on another pass in the seam during the next drive.
“I have a two-way go, we worked it all practice, against cover 2, I take the middle,” Mumpfield said. “If it’s man, 1-high, I can take the corner. I can see they were getting off the set pieces and I just got open, like wide open, I’m thinking touchdown. Break, simple, good completion.”
Jurkovec hit Mumpfield for an 18-yard gain on a quick post, right inside the 5-yard line, but he felt like a better ball might’ve led to a touchdown, too.
“He does have the option there, I think if I give him a better ball, then he scores,” Jurkovec said. “But I trust that he’s gonna be there because he’s reliable and consistent with his routes.”
Jurkovec hit Mumpfield three times, Bartholomew twice, Bub Means twice, C’Bo Flemister twice, Karter Johnson twice, Daejon Reynolds twice, Jake Renda twice, Rodney Hammond Jr. once and Malcolm Epps twice. It wasn’t as if Jurkovec was specifically looking to spread the ball, he took what he saw on every snap.
“I don’t think a lot of it was, ‘We’re gonna try to get this guy the ball on this play,’ it’s just reading out the plays,” Jurkovec said. “And we have a lot of weapons, so we were rotating guys in, and you could see a lot of guys could play out there.
“Reading out the plays. Whatever’s called, you’re gonna make those reads, but you’re not gonna specifically target a person. I mean, we can do that at times, but most of the time, you’re reading out the progression.”
It was a very solid debut for Jurkovec, and he admitted that he was just shaking off some rust during the first possession, but there’s an expectation to really round into form as the stretch of 11 consecutive Power Five opponents starts this week with Cincinnati — especially as the true offense opens up.
“It was a little sloppy, I missed some throws I’d like to have back, and I think I could had better footwork on certain plays,” Jurkovec said. “But that’s just gonna come with being a little bit of time since I was on the field.”
Pitt picked up a Week 1 win and showed progression against Wofford. Now it’s back to the film room and the practice field over the course of the week to be better against Cincinnati next weekend.