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It’s on Phil Jurkovec to Prove Pitt Has a Leader at QB Again

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Pitt quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

There’s a reason why Kenny Pickett is beloved in the city of Pittsburgh. It’s not because he won an ACC championship, okay, that may be part of it, but it’s more so because he embodied what it meant to be a Pitt Panther.

He was a leader on and off the field, he commanded the respect of his teammates (and the coaching staff) and he worked for five seasons to become the leader of the Pitt football team. He just had it.

Pitt teammates voted Pickett a captain in the 2020 and 2021 seasons, and he delivered. Now he’s the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pickett made an impact all throughout his career in Pittsburgh, starting his career by burning his redshirt in an upset win over then-No. 2 Miami and ending it by hoisting the ACC championship trophy in Charlotte, North Carolina. Narduzzi has often said that Pickett is the best player he’s ever coached at Pitt, and it’s largely because of the hard work he’s put in to get to that level.

“I bet you his car is one of the first ones here in the morning and one of the last ones to leave,” Narduzzi said Thursday at a weekly presser. “He’s working at it, and the players see that. … So, that’s the first thing, he leads by example. But he’s got a way about him. He’s not afraid to speak up. You know how some people see stuff, and they see it and they don’t say anything? It could be with your bosses. He’s not afraid to say, ‘Hey, let’s do it this way,’ or, ‘What are you doing?’ He’s not going to step out of bounds or cross the line, but he’s not afraid to give his opinion on something whether it’s with the coaches, which is what you want.”

Pitt had a successful 9-4 season last season, the first without Pickett since the 2017 season, but there was something missing. If you’ve read between the lines, or listened to just about every Pitt coach and player who spoke over the course of the offseason, that missing piece is no secret.

Leadership at quarterback — among other things. It didn’t work with Kedon Slovis. It’s still too early to tell when it comes to Phil Jurkovec this season. There are signs that point toward greater chemistry, but it still needs to be proven on the field.

“I think we’ll see it as the season goes on,” Narduzzi said. “I think that’s something he demonstrated on the field. I got other indicators, just from our captains about him that are really, really good. But I think it’s still too early for me to say as a coach.”

Jurkovec opened his Pitt career with a win over Wofford, completing 17-of-23 pass attempts for 214 yards and a touchdown, adding another 41 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but it wasn’t exactly the toughest of opponents. Cincinnati will be tougher, West Virginia will be a grudge match and the ACC slate appears more difficult than originally expected.

Jurkovec has done and said all the right things so far, he’s not a captain, but he is the leader of the offense. He has the trust of his teammates. Narduzzi himself has said that Jurkovec brings a kind of leadership that Pitt didn’t have last season. But the only way he’ll be able to prove that he’s a leader worthy of praise is through his play on the field this season.

And the first chance comes Saturday evening as Cincinnati comes to Acrisure Stadium for an ACC-Big 12 matchup. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Katsura cassells
Katsura cassells
9 months ago

Phil’s opportunity to “prove it on the field.” As opposed to last week, the play-book will have to be wide open for our Panthers to win this one. Cignetti’s ability as a play caller will be challenged. If the Panthers want to be considered a top tier program, they’ll have to win games like this.

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