First, the Panthers defense is for real. Sure, there were several critical missed tackles and fifth-year senior safety Mike Phillips was no match for MSU running back Jehuu Caulcrick, but the sacks, pressure and third- and fourth-down stands were incredible considering how long the Pittsburgh defense was on the field.
Second, criticism surrounding defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads should end immediately. Sure, it's a long season, but Pitt's defensive game plan was excellent, and its execution solid.
Third, freshman tailback LeSean McCoy proved that he can be the workhorse that Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has coveted since he returned to his alma mater. McCoy was nothing less than spectacular while running the football during conventional plays or on direct snaps. He must continue to be ridden as long as he can hold up.
Fourth, Smith cannot make the plays necessary for the Panthers to be successful against better competition. The throws that he misses, bubble-screens -- which are useless, in my opinion -- out patterns and short slants are plays that he has not completed since training camp began some five weeks ago. He grew up a bit on that final drive, but it was too little, too late.
Fifth, Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh must get a little more imaginative with his play-calling in remaining games, because teams most assuredly will stack the box against McCoy. And even running him off direct snaps will be difficult.
Sixth, the Panthers playmakers on defense far outshined the offensive stars. Other than McCoy, there were few big plays. Wideout Oderick Turner had a chance to make one, but dropped a sure touchdown pass. Obviously, Smith didn't give them many chances, but Turner's drop and T.J. Porter's fumble -- as well as the crucial penalties -- were not Smith's fault.
Seventh, the Pitt coaching staff must have no faith in freshman quarterback Pat Bostick. His work ethic and conditioning have been questioned, and clearly he is not ready to play at this level. Throwing him in there, however, would not appear to be any worse for the Panthers than playing Smith. But that would have occurred against Michigan State if it was a viable option.
Finally, Pitt will win its share of games this season, without question. I believe the defense is that good, but to make clear progress -- winning more games than it loses -- depends on a popgun offense that must find a way to improve or get McCoy even more involved if that's possible.
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