"I thought they were both OK,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Kevan Smith had up-and-down days with his consistency (this spring). Billy Stull, I thought was operating pretty good. The one interception he threw ... that tells me we've got work to do. You cannot make those decisions. We're at the 30-yard line, going in. He was trying to throw the ball away.''
Sophomore cornerback Aaron Berry intercepted Stull, as senior wideout Derek Kinder deflected the underthrown ball. Smith's interceptions were also by sophomores, OLB Dorin Dickerson and safety Elijah Fields. Dickerson was underthrown and basically went right to him.
"That was bad,'' Smith said. "Sometimes, you just have to dump the ball off to the back and let them do the work. Whenever things look cloudy in the secondary, Coach Cavanaugh just wants us to keep working the backs as much as possible. Completions are clutch, and as long as we can keep doing that we'll be all right.''
Fields made the day's biggest play by intercepting Smith and returning it 53 yards for a touchdown. Smith cut off the pass in the open field and basically raced untouched into the end zone.
"We were in cover 2 (defense), and I knew the receiver was going to bend in and get me on an out route,'' Fields said. "So, I read the quarterback's eyes, and I usually can catch Kevan staring a receiver down. So, I just went on a guess and just broke on it. And it was right there. It felt like high school again. Once I see the end zone, I don't let anything stop me.
"It was the first time it felt that way for me, and it felt good getting back in the end zone again. I learned a lot from when I first came in here. There was so much stuff to learn, and the system is way different from my high school. So, I think I made the transition, and this year I'm learning to play now. I like coming off the edge with blitzes to make more plays.''
Big plays were rewarded on both sides, as the defense took advantage of six sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and 17 total stops behind the line for their points, while the offense was compensated for first downs and long plays to go with some conventional scoring plays.
"The game was indicative of the things we observed the last few weeks in practice,'' Wannstedt said. "Overall, it was a good day. The only negative was the turnovers. I told the team that turnovers are nice for the defense, but the game tape will tell us if the turnovers were a result of great plays by the defense or mistakes by the offense.''
If Fields made the flashiest play, defensive tackle Gus Mustakas and middle linebacker Scott McKillop were the steadiest performers. McKillop led Pitt in total tackles with 10, including nine assisted, by taking advantage from his spot in the middle of the defense. But Mustakas was dominant from his spot up front. He had six total tackles, three stops for losses, two sacks and a forced fumble.
"Last year, I really didn't get to play much in the spring, and I was switched at the end to D-tackle,'' Mustakas said. "So, that whole year, I had to learn the position so much better. And I could feel it coming a lot faster than it usually does. So, it's working out pretty well.
"I'm having some good (pass) rushes now, and things have been going pretty good for me this spring. They've been bringing the running back on me, so I've been getting a little double-teamed. But you can't be mad about that. I think it's a sign of respect. That's how I look at it.''
Stull, the supposed frontrunner for the starting quarterback job, has not had a definitive performance since the opening spring practice week.
"Coach Wannstedt has stressed all spring not to worry about the depth chart, just worry about myself,'' Stull said. "You can only control the things that you can control, so that's the way I'm looking at things right now.
"I just have to keep working hard on the little things and making better reads, and improve on all the little things that can make a big difference.''
The leading receiver was sophomore wideout T.J. Porter with four receptions for 68 yards. He started along side Kinder, moving ahead of incumbent Oderick Turner, but Wannstedt said that wasn't as much an indictment of Turner's play but Porter's improvement. He also praised Pestano for making large strides this spring.
Junior tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling led a strong running game with 81 yards on just 13 carries, while backup tailback Kevin Collier added 54 yards on 12 runs. Junior fullback Conredge Collins had a rushing touchdown.
Redshirt junior place-kicker Conor Lee made field goals from 20 and 22 yards, but he missed from 46. Redshirt junior punter Dave Brytus struggled, however, with a 29.8-yard average on five kicks despite no rush.
The attendance was announced at 2,103.
There were 14 Panthers unavailable for game action due to recent or offseason surgeries that also limited their play during the spring sessions. The group included center John Bachman (right knee), OLB Jemell Brady (shoulder), DB Irvan Brown (shoulder), OG John Brown (knee), QB Dexter Davidson (knees), LB Steve Dell (knee), DE Doug Fulmer (right knee), OG Kevin Hughes (knee), DT John Malecki (right shoulder), DT Jared Martin (right shoulder), OT Mike McGlynn (left shoulder), TE Darrell Strong (right shoulder), MLB Greg Webster (Crohn's Disease) and DT Mick Williams (shoulder).
Ed Conway Award
Mustakas and senior left OT Jeff Otah were the annual Conway Award recipients for most-improved play during the 2007 spring practice sessions.
The award was first given out in 1975 to center John Pelusi and DE Randy Cozens to honor Conway, the former Pitt football radio voice, who passed away in 1974. Last year's winners were OG C.J. Davis, OLB Clint Session and Kennard Cox as a special teams player.
Also, academic honors were bestowed on QB Kevan Smith and DL Ty Tkach, as the two future redshirt frosh have excelled in the classroom. Wannstedt said that Smith has a 3.8 GPA, while Tkach was at 3.5.
The defense dominated, especially the first-teamers, as Mustakas and DE Joe Clermond were practically unstoppable. ... Neither QB played that well, other than Stull moving the ball down the field on the opening position for a score. ... Stull did not complete passes for a high percentage, missing some open receivers when he had a chance and generally getting harassed by the first-team D-line. ... Smith was ineffective as well, for the most part, with two fumbles and two interceptions. His best completions were dump-offs to backup FB Shane Brooks until he threw a late TD to Pestano. However, he fumbled the initial snap from center Scott Corson, something that has plagued the QB all spring, and lost another as well. ... Sophomore T.J. Porter continued to make plays and teamed with senior Derek Kinder as the top WR tandem. Pitt is deep and good at the WR position. ... Romeus has a chance to make a lot of plays from his DE spot whether he starts or comes in as a pass-rusher on third down. ... LaRod showed some durability and breakaway speed and will have more big-play capability while sharing time with LeSean McCoy this fall. ... Fields was all over the field Saturday and will be difficult to keep off it this fall. ... Brytus had a rough punting day despite basically getting free kicks. It was cold, but no wind or precipitation and no pass rush.