Yes, Kevan Smith injured his right (throwing) shoulder after he relieved Pat Bostick during the second half in a loss this past Saturday at Rutgers. But Pittsburgh football coach Dave Wannstedt said that it was not separated, and Smith practiced on a limited basis Sunday night. Bostick came back into the game and nearly led the Panthers to a comeback victory on their final drive.
Pitt (4-6 overall, 2-3 in the Big East) faces South Florida (8-3, 3-3) in the club's final home game Saturday at noon at Heinz Field. The regular-season finale against West Virginia Dec. 1 in Morgantown, W.Va. will kick off at either 7:45 p.m. on ESPN or 8 on ESPN 2 in a national broadcast, but the start time won't be determined until six days before the game.
"Kevan was a lot better (Monday),'' Wannstedt said. "We actually practiced (Sunday). He was somewhat limited, but I expect him to be ready to play Saturday. I probably won't name a starter until Saturday. We'll practice them both and rotate them both (with the first team) and see how Kevan is and how Pat bounces back, and I'll make a determination come Saturday.''
Wannstedt noted that Smith took a hard hit on his right shoulder. It was bruised, but tests did not reveal a separation. So, the head coach believed that he would be ready to go when practice resumes Tuesday afternoon. Smith replaced a shaky Bostick in the second half at Rutgers and looked sharper than he did in three early-season starts.
Smith was 7-for-11 for 81 yards and ran six times for 42 yards. It was a marked improvement over Bostick, who was harassed from the outset and sacked five times by Rutgers. Smith, who is stronger and more athletic, was able to avoid the pressure and make a few plays in the second half.
"I told him that he didn't look like the same guy that played earlier in the year, and he said that he was more confident with what we were doing on offense,'' Wannstedt said. "And he said that things just happened faster for him, and when you watch the tape or when you watched the game, that would be the way to describe it.
"(Smith's) drop was quicker, and his release was quicker. When he didn't want to throw and when he tucked it and ran, it happened quickly. So, everything just happened faster with Kevan (Saturday) than it did previously in the first 2-3 games that he played.''
Bostick's first-half play was a setback in his development. He replaced Smith in the second half of Game 4 against Connecticut and started the ensuing six games. However, during the first half at Rutgers, Bostick completed just 3 of 11 passes for 35 yards and one short touchdown to tight end Darrell Strong, but his shortcomings -- lack of arm strength and immobility -- were exposed by the Scarlet Knights with five sacks and constant pressure.
"He had a great week of practice,'' Wannstedt said. "I think the pressure got to him a little bit. By pressure, I mean pass-rush pressure. They were in his face. He is a very accurate passer, and when he did get away from the pressure, he missed two or three throws that I have not seen him miss since he's been here. That was probably the most disappointing thing, because when he has an opportunity to make throws he normally hits them.
"So, we missed some throws early that might have been first downs. Who knows? And they would have at least kept drives going. ... We just could not convert on third down, and you just can't score points if you're doing that. You've got to be able to convert on third down, and it's very difficult to run the ball and convert on third-and-long. So, you've got to be able to throw it, and I thought we had some good schemes for what they were going to do.
"It was a combination of some pressure up front,'' Wannstedt added, "and they did sack us five times. A lot of those times, you've got to get rid of the ball. You can't stand back there, especially against a high-pressure team like them, so it's just a learning curve (for Bostick). But he came out (Sunday) and had an excellent practice, and I expect him to bounce back this week.''
To Bostick's credit, he replaced the injured Smith on the final Pitt drive and nearly led the Panthers to a victory with 4-for-5 passing for 42 yards and an apparent game-winning touchdown to Oderick Turner that was nullified when the redshirt sophomore wideout was called for pass interference.
"I think it says a lot for his mental toughness, and it says a lot for his character,'' Wannstedt said. "For him to jump back in there with two or three minutes to go in the game, when we have to score, and put together a decent drive. He got us down there in position to win the game.
"And when you get behind, you're talking about a two-minute drill, and that's the goal. To get down there and have 2-3 plays at the end to win it. We were down there at the 9-yard line with plenty of time and one timeout to win the game. That should be enough to get it done.''
Notes: Redshirt junior MLB Scott McKillop leads the nation in tackles and was named Big East defensive player of the week after his performance. McKillop recorded 16 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception at Rutgers. ... McKillop has 124 total tackles with two games left, leads the nation with 12.4 stops per game and is second with 7.8 solos. ... Wannstedt said that fifth-year senior Kennard Cox, sophomore Aaron Berry, redshirt freshman Ricky Gary and sophomore Jovani Chappel will all play extensively at cornerback against South Florida. However, Cox and Berry will continue to start. ... Cox was burned for a 53-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter at Rutgers and later replaced by Chappel.