Pitt Chooses Turman As Starting QB

Tuesday, October 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) — After three weeks of camp, five games and two off weeks, Pitt finally has a starting quarterback — and just in time for the Panthers' toughest stretch of the season.

John Turman, a senior, has started most of the season, but only now has officially beaten out junior David Priestley. Turman will start Saturday against Boston College and is expected to keep the job against No. 2 Virginia Tech on Oct. 28 and No. 4 Miami on Nov. 11.

``It's not just for this game,'' Harris said Monday of Turman's newfound status. ``But I still reserve the right to make a change if I think we need a relief pitcher. But I think John Turman has separated himself.''

It was about this time last season that Priestley beat out Turman. However, Priestley has had a slow recovery from shoulder surgery and isn't throwing as well as he was a year ago, when he passed for 407 yards against Virginia Tech and 291 yards against Boston College.

Priestley missed the final two games of last season and spring practice after having shoulder surgery, but Harris said that injury has had plenty of time to heal.

``David Priestley has not been quite the same player he was (last year) ... and the player I know that he wants to be,'' Harris said. ``I don't know exactly why. His arm strength isn't quite what it used to be.''

Harris said wide receiver R.J. English also had a drop-off last year after injuring a knee, but has returned this season to play even better than he did two years ago. English has three touchdowns among his eight receptions.

Turman, a senior, is 59-of-105 for 944 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions, while Priestley is 27-of-44 for three touchdowns and one interception.

By designating a starter now, Harris can give Turman more practice repetitions with the starting offense at what is the critical point of the Panthers' season. Their 4-1 start is their best since opening 5-0 in 1991 and puts them within two victories of the six they need to qualify for a bowl game.

But the Panthers will be strongly favored in only one of their remaining six games, Nov. 18 at Temple. They have beaten Boston College only once in eight years, and they also play North Carolina on Nov. 4. They finish the season Nov. 24 against West Virginia, which has blown them out the last two seasons.

Priestley hasn't played himself into a position to take the job away from Turman but, Harris, said, Turman also hasn't allowed Priestley to beat him out, either.

Turman injured his right thumb as his hand struck a helmet on the first pass he threw against Syracuse, but he stayed in the game and was 20-of-44 for 228 yards and a touchdown.

``He's improved his game and has shown a physical toughness,'' Harris said. ``He has a way of hanging in there. His ability to bring us back on the last two drives at Syracuse (in a 24-17 overtime loss on Oct. 7) was pretty powerful. He's a tough-minded guy who will stay in there and deliver the ball.''

Pitt last beat Boston College in 1997, winning 20-13 to stop a four-game losing streak against the Eagles. Boston College has won the last three years in a series marked by close games, with four of the last five decided by an average of five points.

Boston College is coming off a 20-13 victory over Syracuse. Pitt was idle last weekend.