Smith Looks For Improvement

It's been said that a football team and its players improve the most during the time between the first and second games.

Pitt quarterback Kevan Smith is hopeful that saying is true. Smith, a redshirt freshman, was solid in his first collegiate start last week, but he'll need to play much better against Michigan State Saturday at noon at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.

"Coach Cav always talks about being patient with things, and the big plays will come,'' Smith said. "And that's what happened. Coach Cav got my feet a little wet with some small passes, and then he let me take a couple shots. You all know how that worked out, and that was beneficial to me.

"So, I definitely think that my poise and confidence level is going to be big going into this game, and I just want to make strides in how I present myself and how I take control of things. My team believes in me 100 percent, and they back me up. And they understand the game plan, so just think if everybody goes in there and does their part, we'll be fine.''

Smith also benefitted from offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh's move to the booth. The coach can still communicate with Smith, but he gets a better view from upstairs that Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt believed was essential after Cavanaugh spent the past two seasons on the sideline.

"We talked about it, and I know for a fact that you can see more from up there than you can see from on the field,'' Wannstedt said. "And I think that last year, the last two years with Tyler, we felt like it was best to be down there with him because of the transition. And we put a lot more on the quarterbacks the last two years than we are this year.

"It's more important for our offense and for our team to have Matt up there to see a little more and to think a little more and hopefully make two or three decisions better that make a difference during the game. Every time that the quarterbacks came off the phone, Matt was talking to them on the headphones. So, communication isn't a problem.''

After spending the first week on the sideline, Cavanaugh joined defensive backs coaches Chris Ball and Jeff Hafley in the booth. Offensively, the Panthers still have receivers coach Aubrey Hill, offensive line coach Paul Dunn and running backs coach David Walker on the field. The trio does the signaling onto the field with Walker coordinating the entire process. Even though former Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford there, he isn't in the mix.

"Rod's here just observing,'' Wannstedt noted. "He really can't do any coaching. He watches film and works in the office, but he really can't do anything on the field. He's volunteering, and the big thing for him is just to see how everything is done to see if he wants to be a coach.''

Rutherford and Cavanaugh break down film with Smith, and the most notable problems he had from last week were a fumble and interception. There were also some overthrown passes to players who were open, like fullback Shane Brooks near the goal line, but Smith believed that another strong week of preparation would shore up those issues as well.

"I'm taking the approach that I want to put my team in the best situation to win,'' Smith said, "and I've been studying film and learning tendencies of defenses. ... So, we just need to believe in our game plan, and I think we'll be good. Michigan State is definitely a big team to compete against, but we're watching a lot of Cincinnati film to see what that coaching staff did there.

"(So), we're going to put something productive together. And I'm confident that Coach Cav will have us ready for Michigan State. ... The game last year, we battled them the entire first half, but things went downhill in the second. This year, conditioning-wise, we're way ahead of where we were last year. And I believe we'll put on a very competitive game.

"Nobody wants to have a .500 season again, and I think that's definitely a big motivation,'' Smith added. "If our strength coaches see somebody slack off, they ask us if we want to have another 6-6 season. ... We don't want to have a season like that again. We believe we're going to a bowl game, and we have to think that way. We have to keep that mentality.''

A win against Michigan State certainly would be a step in the right direction.

Notes: Junior tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling did not practice again Wednesday, so freshman LeSean McCoy is closer to being the starter at MSU. ... Redshirt sophomore TE John Pelusi practiced and is ready to play. ... A tape from a Navy SEAL drill instructor's marching cadence was blasted over loud speakers Wednesday to simulate crowd noise during practice.

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