Is Smith Pitt's Next Starter?

Pitt's quarterback derby is open once again, as junior Bill Stull's stay lasted about three quarters due to ligament damage in his right thumb that will need surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation.

Stull officially will be out an indefinite period, but similar injuries have kept quarterbacks out at least several weeks. That means either redshirt freshman Kevan Smith or freshman Pat Bostick will get the start for Pittsburgh against Division I-AA Grambling State Saturday at noon at Heinz Field, and both are likely to play.

"We feel very disappointed for Billy,'' Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He worked incredibly hard during the offseason to earn the starting job, and those efforts showed in his strong play (Saturday) night. Knowing Billy, he will be very diligent in his rehabilitation and be back as soon as possible.

"(Now), we will work this week to get Kevan Smith and Pat Bostick ready to play against Grambling. Their performances at practice this week will determine our starter for Saturday.''

Unless Bostick makes a drastic improvement in just a few days, Smith should get his first collegiate start. In his first career action against EMU, Smith completed 2 of 4 passes for 18 yards. Bostick did not play.

Smith and Bostick were inconsistent during training camp, as Stull soundly beat out for the starting job, but Smith played well at the end and was fairly cool against EMU.

"I thought I did pretty well, and I think the guys have full confidence in me,'' Smith said. "I felt like I had a good presence in myself, and ... I think the guys believed that I would be able to get the job done.

I prepared all week for this specific situation. (So), I'm going to work my tail off this week, just like I did this past week, and I'll prepare myself like I'm going to start. So, we'll see what happens.''

Sophomore tight end Nate Byham believed that Smith appeared to be comfortable in the huddle and at the line. Freshman tailback LeSean McCoy also did not express any concerns.

"We've got a lot of confidence in Kevan,'' McCoy said. "As much as Billy practices every day to prepare for the games, Kevan's doing the same things. So, we're real confident in both of them.''

Smith noted that there was not as much pressure on him since the Panthers held a big lead and were in control when he entered the game, but junior tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling believed he would be able to handle it.

"I'm sure there will be some pressure on Kevan if he has to play again this week, but he'll be all right,'' Stephens-Howling said. "Billy's a tough kid, and he'll be back, but if Kevan has to play we'll just have to get behind him just like we did Billy. And it'll be up to the O-line and the running backs to take the pressure off him.''

Smith noted that he spent his entire time on the bench in contact with Stull and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, so it's not like he was thrown into the fire without a clue. The only problem Smith had was with a fumbled quarterback-center exchange, but Pitt recovered the loose ball.

"I thought Kevan handled it well,'' Wannstedt said. "The one quarterback exchange should not have happened. There's no excuse for that, but Kevan made a couple nice throws. We didn't ask him to do a whole lot, but he had good presence in the huddle.

"He knew exactly what we were talking about on the sideline, and that was a big step for him. So, I thought he played well. (And) he'll be ready, if he needs to start. Pat was ready to go, and ... if Pat's gotta play next week, he's ready to go that. It would be before we'd like, but it is what it is.''

Before he was injured, Stull was extremely efficient. He opened with seven straight completions, including a touchdown toss, and finished with 14-for-20 passing for 177 yards.

"I thought Billy played very well before he got hurt,'' Wannstedt said. "He managed the game well and gave the guys around him a chance to make plays. He didn't miss many throws.''

If Bostick gets into the game this week, he'll be Pitt's fourth freshman to play. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard, safety Dom DeCicco and McCoy played against EMU. Wideout Maurice Williams was expected to play, but he didn't.

Pitt's other injury Saturday occurred when redshirt sophomore tight end John Pelusi fell on his shoulder. The Panthers did not make a statement on his status, but he reportedly will need surgery and be out 3-6 weeks.

Due to the Labor Day holiday, Wannstedt's press conference is pushed back to Tuesday morning at 10:30, so more information could be determined then.

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