Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads probably said it best when he noted that the team really can't replace junior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas, at least not with one player, so the Panthers will use two guys -- redshirt sophomore Mick Williams and sophomore Tommie Duhart.
Williams is the probable starter, while Duhart will come off the bench. But both will play considerably when Pittsburgh visits Michigan State Saturday at noon in East Lansing, Mich., and the two likely will split the snaps evenly like they did in the first two games.
Junior Rashaad Duncan and sophomore John Malecki also rotate at the nose tackle spot for Pitt's defensive line.
"Any time you lose a starter and a leader it's tough, but thankfully we have a couple talented young men who can step in and play well,'' defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said. "The biggest thing isn't talent. It's experience, and Gus became a great player through experience. He learned how to read the little nuances of line play, and that's why he played so well.
"Tommie and Mick and Rashaad and Johnny are all learning that, and I don't know how it'll all sort out in a week or two. But right now, we'll go out with Mick and Tommie. ... I have confidence in them. They're talented and tough. They feel bad for Gus, but this is an opportunity for them to get some playing time and shine. And I think they'll do that.''
Gattuso described Williams as explosive, powerful and "almost freakish in his strength at times.'' But due to various injuries the past two seasons, he has limited experience. Williams has great tools, but he has to stay healthy and needed to give a consistent effort during every practice, Gattuso added.
"First of all, I feel really bad for Gus, because he was having a fantastic season,'' Williams said. "And it's going to be really hard to fill his shoes. ... I just hope I can match his intensity level and how he was playing the game.
"Gus is one of my real good friends on the team, and I'm about to move in with him. He's my good friend, so I was down when he got hurt, but I want to play the rest of this season for him. And, hopefully, I can do as good as he did before he got hurt. So, that's what I'm going to try to do.''
Duhart is also big, strong and athletic, but his footwork needs to improve. The more experience he gets, Gattuso noted, the better Duhart will be since this is his first season at the Division I level after playing junior-college ball.
"My power game is real good, and I think that's my best asset as far as clogging things up and stopping the run,'' Duhart said. "I have to work on my pass rush a little more, at least in games, but it's looking real good in practice. Being my first time playing D-I ball, you sometimes forget your techniques when you're in a game. But ... I'll work on everything else.
"From Gus, I mostly picked up things about the way he uses his hands and the effort that he gives. He has a lot of effort and hustles on every play. So, I try to run to the ball on every play. He has a great attitude, too. ... Their O-line is very big. So, it's a big test, but I'll definitely be ready to play.''
Duhart added that he'll be ready for whatever gets thrown at him this week against the Spartans. In the game against them last season, Williams didn't expect to get injured and be lost for the season, but a serious shoulder injury shelved him from then throughout the spring. So, is this a revenge game?
"I'll be ready to play as much as possible against Michigan State this week,'' Williams said. "That game last year was when I ended my season, so it's pretty cool to get this opportunity against them this year. I'm really looking forward to it, and I'm going to be ready for them.''
And with Mustakas out for the season, Williams and Duhart will have to be ready to go every week.