When the Panthers’ offense trots out against No. 14 Louisville on Saturday, it will be with Christian Veilleux under center.
It’s taken five weeks, but the coaching staff has made a decision to switch from Phil Jurkovec to Christian Veilleux going forward. Pat Narduzzi announced Monday at his weekly news conference that Veilleux — officially — will start at quarterback this week.
And according to Pat Narduzzi, it was Frank Cignetti Jr. who made the call.
“Frank ultimately is going to make that decision, but we had conversations, for sure,” Narduzzi said Monday. “And I think any time you step overboard and say, ‘Hey, I think you need to do this,’ I just don’t think it works well.
“But Frank ultimately makes that call, and I’ll either say, yay or nay, and like I said, we’ve got faith in Phil and you’re hoping to see what you saw in practice, but like I said, we’re gonna find out where we move from here. And again, Phil is an unbelievable guy, Phil will do whatever you ask him to do, he just wants to win. Phil took it like a champion, like I expected him to, and Phil will do anything we ask him to do.”
With Veilleux under center, and Jurkovec apparently not playing as a tight end going forward, it seems as though it’s simply Veilleux under center, Jurkovec as the backup and Nate Yarnell as the third-stringer.
Jurkovec completed 57-of-112 pass attempts (50.9%) for 818 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions through four-and-a-half games this season, but that stat line doesn’t tell the full story. He made the easy look impossible, failed to connect on his deep shots and actively contributed to three losses this season.
It remains to be seen whether he’s finished his college career as a quarterback, but if he has, he’s thrown for 6,224 passing yards with 43 touchdowns and 20 interceptions — adding 627 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He put together his best season under Frank Cignetti Jr. at Boston College in 2020, but it’s been downhill since as inconsistent play and injuries stalled any sort of progression.
There’s a relationship between Cignetti and Jurkovec, one that’s existed since their time together at Boston College, but it wasn’t working. The relationship — the play on the field — wasn’t resulting in production on the field. And it resulted in change.
“Obviously, last week we made a change at the quarterback spot, I got a ton of confidence in Phil Jurkovec,” Narduzzi said. “I still do, even if you don’t. But I think we needed a spark at that position, see what happens so that’s what we did. So, Christian will be the guy lined up there and expect to have a good week this week as we did last week at that position. And we have a lot of faith in Nate Yarnell as well.”
Veilleux, who committed to Pitt a few weeks after Jurkovec, told Pittsburgh Sports Now that he didn’t come to Pitt to ride the bench. And he fought Jurkovec for the starting job throughout the spring, but it’s clear that he was viewed more as the potential quarterback of the future.
“We have a talented quarterback room, and it’s not where (Veilleux) is, but it’s where he’s going to be,” Cignetti said after the spring game in April. “We’re really excited about where Christian is going as a quarterback.”
Well, the Pitt coaching staff better be excited about where Veilleux is right now. Because he’s the guy now.
Pat Narduzzi promised that Pitt would, “figure out what we do well, what we don’t do well, stop doing what we don’t do well and do something better,” during the bye week. It may have taken some time, but he finally realized that Jurkovec hasn’t given the Panthers a chance to succeed this season. Veilleux wasn’t good in his relief appearance against North Carolina, but he wasn’t exactly placed in the best situation either.
He came in cold late in the first half against North Carolina a few weeks ago, completing a 15-yard pass to Daejon Reynolds to set up a (missed) 58-yard field goal. But he struggled in the second half, completing 6-of-17 pass attempts for 70 yards and two interceptions — with a fumble. But Narduzzi, as has been the case with Jurkovec, said it wasn’t all on the quarterback.
“Did he do a good job? I think he was good,” Narduzzi said earlier this month. “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.
“Again, like I said, 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, the three turnovers there, it’s not all on him.”
Veilleux came in off the bench, hadn’t repped with the No. 1 offense and clearly was unprepared to deal with the North Carolina defense — as was the Pitt offensive line.
The offensive line at this point is what it is. As is the case with Veilleux, it’s a young, inexperienced unit that — hopefully — get better with increased reps and experience. Terrence Moore and Ryan Baer are first-year starters, a trio of veterans have missed the last few games and it’s a unit that will not be a strength going forward.
But if Veilleux is able to make the easy throws, if he’s able to progress with increased snaps and increased work in the system, Pitt should be better. And there’s a chance that Veilleux may be the quarterback of the future. And Veilleux, at least over the summer, felt like he’s come so far since arriving.
“Definitely 100% better than the spring,” Veilleux said in August. “In the spring, I only had like two months to really learn the offense as best as I could, so there were definitely some gaps in what I knew. But after having the whole summer and practicing with the team and grinding in the office, I feel so much more comfortable, like I’m getting the ball out early, making the right calls, I’m seeing it well. The coaches have just told me it looks much more fluid when I’m out there.”
As Veilleux worked with the second team during summer camp, with the likes of Kenny Johnson and Zion Fowler-El and Izzy Polk and Lamar Seymore, he grew more comfortable. He felt his bond with the young wide receivers grow.
It will be upon Veilleux now to further those bonds with the wide receivers — young and old — as he takes command of the Panthers offense. And the first chance is against No. 14 Louisville.