Final Thoughts

It's a little early in the season to call this a final exam, so let's just say it's a mid-term test for the Pitt football team against Michigan State Saturday at noon at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.

The Panthers (2-0) fashioned their unbeaten mark against Eastern Michigan, rated among the worst NCAA Division I-A teams, and Grambling, which plays at the I-AA level. So, Michigan State (2-0) is by far their biggest test yet.

"Our players are excited about playing this game, and we're excited about coaching in a game like this,'' Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said. "This is college football. We're going to have a nice crowd on a gorgeous day in September, on national TV, and we're going to find out about our football team.

"We're going to find a lot out. That's why kids come to school at Pitt, to play in games like this, and that's what makes it exciting.''

Even though Michigan State embarrassed Pitt last year with 38 unanswered points to pull away for a win -- including 28 in the second half -- and mark the first in several second-half swoons during the remaining games, defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads didn't believe it still affected the Panthers.

"We brought it up on Sunday, but I don't know if it's been rehashed in the dorm rooms and in the locker room,'' Rhoads said. "But we're very aware of their personnel and very aware of what happened to us the last 30 minutes of that ball game last year.''

One technique that Pitt used this week was blasting noise over speakers during practice Wednesday and Thursday to simulate the crowd noise quarterback Kevan Smith and the Panthers will face at MSU. But he believed that Smith wouldn't be bothered by it.

"Kevan Smith is about as even keel as you're going to find,'' Wannstedt said. "When he throws a touchdown pass, he pretty much has the same mentality as when something bad happens. (So), when we go on the road, I don't expect him to react any different than what he did when he played at home. And I think the best thing that we've got going for us is that he's had a good week of practice, and he's got one start under his belt.

"I think that's probably more important than where we play or what goes on,'' Wannstedt added. "(And) it's not his first trip. He's made road trips before, and he's been to some places with that type of atmosphere (like Syracuse). So, I think he'll be fine. He went on most of the road trips last year.''

Wannstedt would not name a starter to replace junior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas, who is out for the season after knee surgery. Redshirt sophomore Mick Williams and sophomore Tommie Duhart likely will split the snaps evenly, Wannstedt noted, but a starter probably won't be named until game time.

"I want to see them practice (Thursday),'' Wannstedt said. "We've got (that) day, but they're both going to play and play about the same number of plays. So, I'd like to get through practice and get through the meetings.

"And I may take it up to game day to see who's the starter. And we'll also see how they approach this trip from a focus standpoint. I think that's all part of making the final decision (on a starter).''

Notes: The only questionable Pitt player is junior TB LaRod Stephens-Howling (ribs), who went through a light workout Thursday and walkthrough Friday. Wannstedt said his status will be a game time decision. ... The coach also noted that frosh LeSean McCoy likely will get his first collegiate start, even if Stephens-Howling plays on a limited basis. ... Redshirt sophomore TE John Pelusi (shoulder) practiced all week and is expected to play after missing one game. ... Redshirt freshman DE Greg Romeus (hand) also practiced, Wannstedt said, and would play. ... Former Pitt coach Foge Fazio has joined the Panthers pregame show, renamed Countdown To Kickoff.

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