Pitt Versus Connecticut Defense

Connecticut ranks second in the Big East in overall defense with 217.7 yards allowed per game, but Pitt quarterback Kevan Smith believed the Panthers (2-1) would learn from their loss last week and were up for the challenge against the Huskies (3-0) Saturday at 7 p.m. at Heinz Field.

One area Pittsburgh must certainly improve is on third down. The Panthers misfired on all 12 third-down attempts, and Smith was mainly responsible.

"Our third-down conversion rate was horrible, and it's something we had to address this week,'' Kevan Smith said. "I take a lot of blame for that, because they were manageable third downs. Some of the throws, I rushed my mechanics, and I take responsibility for that. I've been working hard on that before and after practice, I think that should improve this week.

"I feel very comfortable out there. The Michigan State game didn't make me a worse player. I think it made me a better player, mentally and physically. I took the same approach every week going into games, and I just think I need to take what I learned from Michigan State and be a better quarterback this week. We all need to learn from our mistakes and play better this week.''

Connecticut isn't likely to make it too comfortable for Smith and Pitt's offense. The Huskies have nine sacks in three games with 29 total tackles behind the line of scrimmage, so they bring a lot of pressure.

"Having a great running game takes a ton of pressure of myself, and it just allows a defense to know that a huge running game is a threat to their defense,'' Smith said. "So, they have to respect that, and once the run game gets going it gives me an opportunity to pass. When that gets going, they have a lot to think about. ... And it'll be big for us if we can get both going.''

Redshirt freshman weak-side linebacker Lawrence Willson leads UConn with 26 total tackles (nine solo stops), while fifth-year senior middle linebacker Danny Lansanah is next with 24 total and seven solos.

Junior defensive end Cody Brown has a team-high 13 solo tackles with two sacks and six stops behind the line. Redshirt junior defensive end Julius Williams leads UConn with 3.5 sacks and five stops behind the line. The Huskies have six interceptions. Redshirt frosh strong-side linebacker Scott Lutrus and sophomore safety Robert Vaughn have two picks each.

"They have a pretty good defense,'' Pitt frosh running back LeSean McCoy said. "They're physical, react to the ball fast and have a lot of returners (starters). So, they're a pretty good defense that likes to come after you and force some turnovers.

"But we can't turn the ball over, and we've got to ... finish teams off. So many things happened during that game on third down, and you might point the finger at Kevan. But it wasn't all his fault. He missed some reads, but we have to execute better as an offense overall.''

The Panthers executed the new "Wildcat'' offense with few hitches in the last game, as McCoy primarily took direct snaps from center. Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt would not commit to how often the offense will be used this week or whether Smith or freshman Pat Bostick would be the starting quarterback. That decision will be announced publicly at game time.

But whomever gets the call at quarterback, he'll certainly have to do a much better job on third down for Pitt to be successful this week.

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