Pitt isn’t going to a bowl game this season. That hasn’t happened since the 2017 season and before that, you’d have to go back to the 2007 season. That’s a pretty good run of “success.”
That’s tough on the seniors because that’s obviously not how they wanted to finish their Pitt career. Still, that doesn’t mean the last three games of the regular season are meaningless. That’s far from the case.
Pitt actually has some important things that they can accomplish, in terms of talent evaluation, and it’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff handles this. Unfortunately, looking at his track record, it’s doubtful head coach Pat Narduzzi will go down this road and instead, he’ll be loyal to his seniors. On one hand, that loyalty as a coach is commendable and important, but in this situation, he needs to look towards the future.
In the past, Pitt has been able to use their extra practices for their upcoming bowl game to continue to evaluate players and, in some cases, give them playing time in that bowl game. That won’t be the case this year, so these final three games against Syracuse at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, Boston College at home next Thursday and then Duke on the road on Saturday, Nov. 25 will serve as crucial moments for the coaching staff to develop their young talent.
The biggest question mark on this team remains the quarterback position and unless something dramatically changes in the next three games, that’ll remain the case heading into the off season.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, they still don’t know who their quarterback of the future is, which should come as troubling to the fan base and the coaching staff. Uncertainty at that position, along with a very poor offensive coordinator, hurt the Panthers last season and killed them again this year.
For a number of reasons, former quarterback Kedon Slovis wasn’t the answer in 2022 and the same thing this season with redshirt senior Phil Jurkovec, who transferred from Boston College.
The only difference in these situations is that Narduzzi has refused to admit his mistake and stuck with Slovis for the entire season. Even Narduzzi wasn’t stubborn enough to end the Jurkovec failed experiment and turned things over to Penn State transfer redshirt sophomore Christian Veilleux.
That was an obvious move, however, through these last three games, question marks still surround the most important position on the field.
It’s damn near impossible to truly evaluate any quarterback considering the abysmal/archaic system they’re playing in under Cignetti, but that still doesn’t answer the question as to if Veilleux is someone that can lead Pitt for the next two years and if they can win with him.
Has Veilleux improved as the signal-caller since his first start? Sure, but not enough to prove that he’s the answer long term, even if Pitt brings in a new offensive coordinator during the offseason.
Could redshirt sophomore Nate Yarnell answer those questions? Maybe. But once again, with him playing so little over these past two seasons, it’s tough to tell.
Pitt should completely open up their passing game to end this season. Scrap all the underneath patterns, along with the wide receiver screens and let the quarterbacks truly air things out. Let Veilleux or Yarnell play as “actual” quarterbacks and use a vertical passing game instead of the garbage 1980’s NFL Pro-style offense Pitt fans have suffered through the last two years.
Along with more aggressive and imaginative play-calling, these last few games are an opportunity to really take a look at some younger players. The redshirt juniors and the fifth year and sixth year seniors that aren’t getting the job done have had their time and the underclassmen should have the chance to prove themselves.
Freshmen like running back Montravius Lloyd and the four upcoming wide receivers in Kenny Johnson, Zion Fowler-El, Lamar Seymore and Israel Polk have the talent to succeed at this level but need the opportunity to show it.
Some other players on offense, such as redshirt sophomores in offensive lineman Terrence Enos Jr. and LSU transfer running back Derrick Davis Jr., and redshirt freshmen in track-star wide receiver Che Nwabuko, and Cal transfer offensive lineman Jackson Brown also should receive more snaps to end 2023.
The defensive line is filled with young, burgeoning stars like redshirt freshmen in Samuel Okunlola, Jimmy Scott, Sean Fitzsimmons, as well as redshirt sophomores in Nakhi Johnson and Elliott Donald. There are also three freshmen linebackers, Jordan Bass, Rasheem Biles and Braylan Lovelace who already burned their redshirt, giving Pitt no reason not to increase their snaps. Freshman defensive back Cruce Brookins made his debut against No. 4 Florida State last Saturday and is another freshman that has the potential to serve as a main-stay in the secondary.
Burning redshirts is something that Pitt shouldn’t care about. In this new age of the transfer portal, saving players with a redshirt is meaningless because the percentage of players that stick with a school for all four years is low. If they’re really good, they’re likely heading to the NFL and if they are unhappy with their situation, they’ll transfer.
No disrespect to the older players but they had a couple years and, in some cases, two-plus years to show what they can do, now it’s time for Narduzzi to look ahead to 2024 and beyond. Don’t waste these last three games. Take a risk and start the on-field talent evaluation for next season starting this Saturday against Syracuse.