Scrimmage leaves Pitt unsettled at QB
Pitt's Blue-Gold Game revealed a truth that had been emerging all spring. The Panthers are a talented team, but one in transition at the most important position.
The defensive line was dominant, and the stars of the sophomore class finally shined, but the competition to replace Tyler Palko remained like some of the throws by the two candidates for starting quarterback -- up for grabs.
With incoming recruit Pat Bostick watching from the sidelines, junior Bill Stull and redshirt freshman Kevan Smith struggled as the Blue (defense) defeated the Gold (offense), 62-48, Saturday before a crowd of 2,103 at Heinz Field.
"Obviously, we struggled a little bit," Stull said. "We ran the ball well. Passingwise, we've just got to play better."
Pitt used a scoring system that rewarded points to both sides, for touchdowns or takeaways, for first downs gained or fourth-down stops.
Although Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt praised the defensive line for its pressure and the secondary for making plays, he didn't give the quarterbacks a ringing endorsement.
"I thought they were both OK," Wannstedt said.
Stull (8 of 18 for 89 yards) and Smith (11 of 22 for 113 yards) combined to complete 19 of 40 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. They also were sacked five times, threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles.
"Anytime you have turnovers, as nice as it is for the defense, from an offensive side I've got to see the tape. Were they great plays by the defense, or were they bad mistakes by our offense?" Wannstedt said, adding that he can live with the fumbled exchanges between Smith and redshirt freshman center Scott Corson, "but the interceptions are something that we won't tolerate. That will get us beat."
Smith also was intercepted by sophomore linebacker Dorin Dickerson, and Stull threw an interception when trying to throw a pass out of bounds. Stull escaped pressure from end Chris McKillop but threw off his back foot, and the pass floated high, off the hands of receiver Derek Kinder and into those of sophomore cornerback Aaron Berry.
Both quarterbacks also led scoring drives. Stull's first series ended with fullback Conredge Collins plunging in from 2 yards out, and Smith tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior receiver Marcel Pestano.
One of the scrimmage's highlights came at Smith's expense, when sophomore safety Elijah Fields intercepted a pass and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown. It was one of several big plays for Fields, who finished with seven tackles, including two for losses.
"I wanted to go out there and just show people what I had and perform well," Fields said. "I'm way ahead (of last season). I know the system more. I can go out there and perform without having any questions about what to do. I know the system, so I'm ready to play now."
The same could be said of the defensive line. Junior tackle Gus Mustakas had six stops, sacking Stull to force a fumble that was recovered by McKillop. End Joe Clermond had five tackles and 1 1/2 sacks for minus-8 yards. Tackle Rashaad Duncan knocked right guard Joe Thomas into the backfield, knocking over Collins.
Wannstedt was pleased that the defensive line dominated.
"If you're talking about the offensive line, you're in trouble," Wannstedt said. "I'd rather throw the accolades at the defensive line all the time. Me being an ex-offensive lineman, they're usually smart guys. They find a way to survive and get it done. If the defensive line isn't making plays, you've got no chance as a football team."
If the same could be said about quarterback, the Blue-Gold Game proved the Panthers still have work to do.