Pitt’s spring football practice ended pretty much how the other 14 workouts went: The defense dominated the offense, and some younger players showed that they have a chance to be strong contributors during the upcoming season.

For the record, with a modified scoring system that rewarded strong defensive play as well as offensive prowess, the Blue (defense) outgunned the Gold (offense) 62-48 in the annual intrasquad scrimmage Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field. The defense took advantage of six sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and 17 total stops behind the line for its points, while the offense was rewarded for first downs and long plays to go with some conventional scoring plays.

“The game was indicative of the things we observed the last few weeks in practice,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “Overall, it was a good day. The only negative was the turnovers. I told the team that turnovers are nice for the defense, but the game tape will tell us if the turnovers were a result of great plays by the defense or mistakes by the offense.”

The majority of big plays came from the defensive side, with tackle Gus Mustakas and middle linebacker Scott McKillop the steadiest performers, but sophomore safety Elijah Fields turned in the biggest play with a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown. Fields cut off a Kevan Smith pass in the open field and basically raced untouched into the end zone.

“We were in Cover 2 (defense), and I knew the receiver was going to bend in and get me on an out route,” Fields said. “So, I read the quarterback’s eyes, and I usually can catch Kevan staring a receiver down. So, I just went on a guess and just broke on it. And it was right there. It felt like high school again. Once I see the end zone, I don’t let anything stop me.”

McKillop led Pitt in total tackles with 10 by taking advantage from his spot in the middle of the defense. But Mustakas was dominant from his spot up front. He had six total tackles, three stops for losses, two sacks and a forced fumble.

“Last year, I really didn’t get to play much in the spring, and I was switched at the end to D-tackle,” Mustakas said. “So, that whole year, I had to learn the position so much better. And I could feel it coming a lot faster than it usually does. So, it’s working out pretty well.”

While the defense had several star performances, the offense was erratic at the top. Quarterbacks Bill Stull and Smith struggled, completing just 19 of 40 passes for 202 yards with three interceptions and a touchdown.

Stull was picked off by sophomore cornerback Aaron Berry on an underthrown pass that senior wideout Derek Kinder deflected.

Smith was also picked off by sophomore Dorin Dickerson, but came back with a 16-yard scoring connection with redshirt junior Marcel Pestano.

Stull, the supposed front-runner for the starting job, was just 8-for-18 for 89 yards. He was sacked three times.

“Coach Wannstedt has stressed all spring not to worry about the depth chart, just worry about myself,” Stull said. “You can only control the things that you can control, so that’s the way I’m looking at things right now.

“I just have to keep working hard on the little things and making better reads, and improve on all the little things that can make a big difference.”

The leading receiver was sophomore wideout T.J. Porter with four receptions for 68 yards.

He started alongside Kinder, moving ahead of incumbent Oderick Turner, but Wannstedt said that wasn’t as much an indictment of Turner’s play as a sign of Porter’s improvement. He also praised Pestano for making large strides this spring.

Junior tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling, a Greater Johnstown graduate, led a strong running game with 81 yards on just 13 carries, while backup tailback Kevin Collier added 54 yards on 12 runs.

Junior fullback Conredge Collins had a rushing touchdown.

Place-kicker Conor Lee made field goals from 20 and 22 yards, but he missed from 46.

Redshirt junior punter Dave Brytus struggled, however, with a 29.8-yard average on five kicks despite no rush.

Trending Video

Recommended for you