The only thing that Pat Narduzzi knows about the quarterbacks at this point, at least in terms of what he will say publicly, is that he doesn’t know anything.
He doesn’t know who will be taking first-team reps in practice this week, he doesn’t know who is going to start against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. this weekend and he doesn’t know when he will know these things — or at least, when he will say it.
But I suppose he does know two things. He knows that Phil Jurkovec will start this weekend if he’s healthy, and he knows that Christian Veilleux will start otherwise.
Jurkovec was unable to finish the best half of football he’s played in a Pitt uniform against North Carolina, knocked out of the game at the end of the first half with a high, hard hit — a hit that Narduzzi said after the game does not have Jurkovec in concussion protocol. Interesting. Regardless, it remains uncertain whether Jurkovec will be able to go this weekend.
Veilleux came into the UNC game in relief of Jurkovec, finishing the final drive of the first half and playing the entire second half. And it was eventful, to say the least, as he completed 7-of-18 pass attempts for 85 yards and two interceptions — and a fumbled handoff. It looked bad, and it certainly was bad, but there is context to consider.
“Did he do a good job? I think he was good,” Narduzzi said Monday at his weekly news conference. “Like I said, it’s the guys around you. Again, we got three turnovers, and anytime you see that you’re going to say no. We had two the week before, and it’s not good. Whatever the reason is, we’ve got to get it fixed.
“But Phil is our starting quarterback. Let’s start there, then we’ll see where we are.”
Narduzzi — and Frank Cignetti Jr. — has been steadfast in his defense of Jurkovec through his struggles this season. The still undisclosed injury to Jurkovec only complicates the matter, especially as he did play noticeably better in the first half against UNC.
But Pitt has reached a crossroads in the season, sitting at 1-3 largely because of the starting quarterback who is now questionable, and there’s a legitimate question to answer when it comes to grinding out a season with underperforming veterans or embracing a youth movement across the lineup.
When it comes to the quarterback, Narduzzi still remains committed to Jurkovec. But he says he trusts both his No. 2 and 3 quarterbacks.
“I would say right now Christian would be the guy if that’s the case, and Nate will be ready to roll,” Narduzzi said. “There’s a lot of faith in Nate Yarnell; I can tell you that. I love Nate Yarnell. He’s a competitor. He’s a leader. But you kind of — you’ve got to give Christian his chance to go get it done, period. I’ve got a lot of faith in him, as well.
“I’ve got faith in everybody in this room. It’s a next-man-up mentality, period, whether it’s the O-line or quarterback. You can’t lose faith. You really can’t.”
Narduzzi felt like Veilleux was ready to go into the game last week. He feels like both Veilleux and Nate Yarnell will be ready this week. But for that truly to be the case, there will need to be a distribution of first-team reps in practice. It was clear that the timing between Veilleux and the wide receivers and tight ends was off.
And as Narduzzi confirmed, the communication between Veilleux and the wide receivers wasn’t quite where it needed to be either.
“Those two drives, your quarterback gets hurt, you’ve got to look at our second-team quarterback in Christian right now, and after further review, you look at the quarterback play and the three turnovers there, it’s not all on him.
“I won’t get into details, but if you go back and watch the tape, the one ball he throws, the interception in the end zone, as fast as Kenny (Johnson) ran that kickoff return, he wasn’t running that route. He slowed down, didn’t see the ball, didn’t think he was going to get it, and the DB is right with him. If Kenny with his speed bursts up and gets that, it’s a touchdown for us instead of a touchdown for them.”
And on that individual play, which resulted in an interception from UNC’s Alijah Huzzie, took a shot. He was hit hard and got the pass off. It didn’t appear as if there was much of an offensive plan once Veilleux entered the game either.
There was no play-action, which worked with Jurkovec in the game, and Cignetti had Veilleux just launch up deep balls that didn’t appear to have any chance of connecting. It wasn’t the most cohesive plan.
If Veilleux is going to have any success while adapting to the starting spot, it will be because the offensive line doesn’t cave in, Cignetti draws up plays that get the ball out quickly — and easily — and Veilleux builds off first-team reps in practice. It wasn’t good against UNC, but the Pitt coaching staff does have a chance to see exactly what Veilleux can be developed into. And that’s on the coaches, too.
It remains to be seen how practice will go this week, how the division of reps will be impacted by Jurkovec’s availability, but Narduzzi said he will know more by Thursday.
“It’s only Monday,” Narduzzi said. “Maybe Thursday I’ll have a better idea for you. Still might not tell you, but I’ll know more by Thursday for sure.”