If there’s one thing that Phil Jurkovec absolutely cannot do, it’s turn the ball over. Especially if he’s going to continue to trot out with the offense every week.
If Jurkovec is going to continue to be the starting quarterback this season, he simply cannot turn the ball over. He cannot fumble quarterback keepers, and he certainly cannot fire wobbly balls into triple coverage.
Of course, it would be more favorable for Jurkovec to take a look in the mirror, diagnose why he’s played so poorly this season and right the ship heading into North Carolina this weekend, but I don’t think there’s any indication that’s about to happen. He could use better blocking, seriously better blocking, and more contested catches. What quarterback couldn’t?
But Jurkovec has made the easy plays look downright impossible this season. And the difficult plays have been non-existent. If he is staying in the lineup, the one thing he can’t do is turn the ball over.
The first two interceptions led to 10 points — three additional points saved by a defensive stand. Both turnovers put Pitt’s defense behind the 8-ball. And despite giving up just 13 yards, 10 points were added to the scoreboard.
“We’re better off punting on second down if we’re going to turn the ball over,” Pat Narduzzi said. “When you go back and look at the turnovers, which I couldn’t see on the field what happened, why did he throw it there, and you don’t see it until you really see the tape. First one is a hitch and a seven route behind it on a sprint-out pass, and they roll up the corner, so the hitch is taken care of, and they’ve got a guy in the deep third on the seven route. It couldn’t have been a worse coverage to have versus that pass concept. Sometimes they guess right.
“We’ve got to make better decisions. It’s trying to force it in, trying to feel like you’ve got to make a play, and sometimes quarterbacks get to that point. It’s the same thing I said last week with receivers rushing the route. You try to make something happen, and you make nothing happen. You make bad things happen.”
Bad things certainly happened on Jurkovec’s second interception.
Phil Jurkovec today in Pitt’s 17-6 loss
8/20, 81 yds, 3 INT; 11 rush, 35 yds
— BC Football by Eagles Daily (@EaglesDailyFTBL) September 17, 2023
If Jurkovec can do nothing else, he cannot turn the ball over. He isn’t doing enough — the offense isn’t doing enough — to give opponents opportunities. Especially when those opportunities come in Pitt territory.
Pitt had a chance — two chances — to beat Cincinnati in the fourth quarter. Even with a 10-of-32 performance from Jurkovec that featured nothing from the running backs.
With three turnovers against WVU, there really wasn’t a chance to get back into the game late. The lead wasn’t insurmountable throughout the second half, but the turnovers were the nail in the coffin. The offense wasn’t clicking, and Jurkovec threw away any chance at sustained pressure.
In two games against Power Five opponents, Jurkovec has completed 18-of-52 pass attempts (34.6%) for 260 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He simply hasn’t been good enough. He isn’t alone in that regard, but he is the quarterback. And for better or worse, the quarterback shoulders the burden.
I can’t see Jurkovec being any worse than he’s been over the first two weeks. If he is, I think even Narduzzi will have a hard time keeping him on the field, but as of now, Jurkovec is the starting quarterback. And just cannot turn the ball over.
“We threw two interceptions which cost you the game, and again, not just those two,” Narduzzi said. “There’s all those other things I just got done talking about that’ll hurt you.”
Well, the three interceptions certainly hurt. Jurkovec doesn’t need to come out and win games with his arm. I don’t know if he can. But he certainly cannot actively lose games.
North Carolina is yet another opportunity for Jurkovec to show he deserves to be the starting quarterback. But it’s also another opportunity to lose control over the situation, too.