I wrote last week that Pat Narduzzi cannot make the same mistake twice. He’s dangerously close to making the same mistake twice now.
No. 17 North Carolina appears to be a bit better than either Cincinnati or West Virginia, but that doesn’t mean Pitt should just mail it in and chalk up a loss to playing a superior team.
If Phil Jurkovec plays as he did against Cincy or WVU, Narduzzi or Frank Cignetti or whoever is making offensive personnel decisions cannot wait any longer. Pull Jurkovec, put in Christian Veilleux. It’s inexcusable to continue to roll out an ineffective quarterback, no matter the help — or lack thereof — he’s receiving.
I don’t know for sure what Pitt’s offensive game plan is this week. I’d imagine that Rodney Hammond Jr. will receive a heavy workload, Jurkovec will be told to not turn the ball over and there will be lots and lots and lots of quick hitters. Think Rhode Island or Western Michigan last season.
The offensive line is brutal, and injuries and ineffective play may lead to new combos, but it shouldn’t excuse poor quarterback play. If Jurkovec is — once again — a detriment to Pitt’s chances of winning, he shouldn’t be in the game. And that’s on the coaches.
Narduzzi can say all he wants that it takes all 11, but Jurkovec is the veteran quarterback who simply hasn’t been good enough. Not even close. And after the last couple of weeks, he has to at least be considering a switch.
“I watch practice every day,” Narduzzi said Thursday at his weekly news conference. “I watch game tape every day. I watch the pressure the quarterback has been under. And I see all the issues. Every year is different, every quarterback is different, and I’m gonna be patient with it.
“No one is saying there’s not gonna be a change, but I look at the whole picture. I see everything, not just — I just don’t see the little things, I gotta look at the overall picture. And I think I’m smart enough and have done it long enough that we’ll make the right decision when the time is right. And hopefully, you guys will come in and say, ‘Coach you’re damn right.’”
The right decision is to play Veilleux. He’s not starting. The next opportunity to make the “right” decision will arrive Saturday night if Jurkovec struggles again.
Jurkovec is not the future. He’s got nine (10 max) games left in his Pitt — and college — career. There is no end game. He’s not playing well, he’s not coming back next season and there are younger options that actually haven’t cost Pitt a few wins. Veteran leadership be damned.
Kenny Pickett started four seasons at Pitt. It wasn’t always good. There were flashes here and there, and he appeared to be on the brink in the COVID-19 season, but it wasn’t until his super-senior season that he truly broke out.
Christian Veilleux has eligibility this season, next season and the season after that. And with the way one-and-done transfer quarterbacks have performed at Pitt recently, the idea of bringing in another should be terrifying. Veilleux is here now and ready to be developed into a long-term starter.
I’ll admit that I don’t know if Veilleux is the guy. But no one will know until he plays. And he cannot be any worse than Jurkovec has been this season. A big-time opportunity against a good UNC squad is as good a debut as any. Maybe Veilleux struggles, too. Maybe he’s exactly what this team needs. But there’s an end goal with Veilleux under center.
“I mean, I didn’t come to Pitt to sit on the bench,” Veilleux told PSN in January. He intended to come in and start.
He’s inexperienced, with just one pseudo-start under his belt against Rutgers in 2021, but once he replaced PSU starter Sean Clifford, he led the Nittany Lions to a 28-0 win. And he certainly didn’t look out of place.
In just over three quarters, he completed 14-of-25 pass attempts for 235 yards and three touchdowns — throwing touchdown passes to three different receivers, including his first collegiate touchdown to NFL star Jahan Dotson.
If Jurkovec struggles again, it should be Veilleux’s team until further notice. Especially if Pitt falls to 1-3. Pitt has a game against a Virginia Tech squad that just lost to Marshall next week and a bye week right after. Seems like the perfect chance for Veilleux to get into the lineup.
Let Jurkovec compete in practice. It’s a tough decision to end a player’s career, but Jurkovec has done himself no favors through the first three weeks of the season. And Narduzzi and Cignetti cannot roll Jurkovec out each week and expect different results. Pitt doesn’t need a superstar quarterback to win, just a competent one.
I expect to see Veilleux tonight. But Jurkovec does have a chance to save his job — and his career — with a strong performance.