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Pitt QB Smith ready for chance

Kevin Gorman
| Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007

Kevan Smith played offensive line in sixth grade and started just 12 games at quarterback in high school.

But when he put together one of the most successful debuts by a freshman quarterback in Pitt history, few were caught by surprise.

"We knew it from last year, from scout team, that he was going to be a good player," sophomore wide receiver Oderick Turner said. "What he's showing ya'll, we've already been used to."

Smith will get the start again Saturday when Pitt (2-0) travels to play Michigan State (2-0) in East Lansing, Mich.

Michigan State has allowed 57 rushing yards on 57 carries this season, so Pitt will need some success passing to avenge last year's loss to the Spartans. Opponents are averaging 254 passing yards per game against the Big Ten school.

"I'm going to prepare just as hard as I did this week," Smith said after Saturday's game, "and the week before that."

Smith's passion for the game is obvious. He was so anxious to resume playing after missing eight games with a broken left wrist his junior year at Seneca Valley High School, he went into the basement of his Cranberry home late one night and removed the cast himself, two weeks ahead of schedule.

Smith completed 15 of 22 passes for 202 yards and one touchdown in Pitt's 34-10 victory over Grambling State at Heinz Field.

His yardage total was the most by a freshman quarterback making his debut since Pitt began keeping track of such records in 1979.

"I have complete faith in Kevan," Turner said. "He can take us to where we want to be."

Said Smith, "I'm starting to develop a great mesh with the offense. They believe in me, and I believe in them."

While some Pitt fans were calling for the beginning of the Pat Bostick era during quarterback Bill Stull's absence with a thumb injury, Smith nailed down the top job. Stull, whose injury requires surgery, will miss at least another month.

Bostick, the heralded recruit from Manheim Township, was intercepted with his only pass attempt.

Dazzling debuts
Here are the top passing performances by freshman quarterbacks making their first start at Pitt, since 1979.
Quarterback Season Yards Opponent
Kevan Smith 2007 202 Grambling State
Matt Lytle 1995 200 Syracuse
John Congemi 1983 177 Temple
Dan Marino 1979 170 Syracuse
Alex Van Pelt 1989 141 Pacific

Smith wasn't perfect in his first collegiate start. He had more turnovers than touchdown passes. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder lost a fumble while being sacked deep in Pitt territory midway through the second quarter. Later, he floated a pass to tight end Darrell Strong, allowing Grambling State defensive back DeMichael Dizer to make a diving interception near midfield.

"When he put the ball on the ground," coach Dave Wannstedt said, "that will cost us a game this week, if the same thing happens against Michigan State."

Smith also overthrew a wide-open Shane Brooks on third-and-goal at the Grambling 3, missing a sure touchdown.

Some of the highlights:

He put nice touch on a 50-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nate Byham, and he showed his arm strength with a strike to Turner for a 61-yard gain in the third quarter. He also made a perfectly placed pass to tight end Darrell Strong along the sideline in the second half, but it fell incomplete.

Saturday, Wannstedt called Smith's performance "decent." Later in the week he said, "When you look at the big picture, I thought he did a fine job for his first start."

Smith showed poise in the huddle for a team led by Tyler Palko for the past three seasons.

"He wasn't nervous at all," said freshman running back LeSean McCoy, who rushed for three touchdowns against Grambling. "He was real demanding in the huddle, and that's how a quarterback should be."

In an unusual move, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh was in the booth rather than on the sidelines for the Grambling State game. Smith liked the setup. He was able to converse with Cavanaugh on the headsets, yet not worry about getting a nasty look when he made a mistake.

"It's kind of relieving," Smith said. "I was kind of happy about that."

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