Pitt notes: Stephens-Howling, McKillop pick up honors
Pitt tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling and defensive end Chris McKillop swept the Big East Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week awards, respectively, for their performances in the Panthers’ 21-11 victory over Syracuse. Stephens-Howling rushed for a career-best 221 yards on 27 carries, scoring on a 70-yard touchdown run. McKillop finished with five tackles, 2 1/2 sacks for minus-20 yards, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
“I think it’s a compliment not just to the individual but to the offense, defense and the rest of the team,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said.
• Redshirt sophomore Eric Thatcher, who started the first five games at free safety, will have surgery on his left ankle and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
“It’s an ankle injury that can be mended quicker by surgery than by just giving it time to heal,” Wannstedt said. “So that’s what the recommendation is, and that’s what will happen.”
• Thatcher did not play against Syracuse and was replaced in the starting lineup by redshirt junior Mike Phillips. Redshirt freshman Irvan Brown is listed as the primary backup, although the safety positions are deemed interchangeable.
• Wannstedt handed out mouse traps to his team, a reference to Central Florida (2-3) being called a “trap game” with a visit from No. 24 Rutgers (5-0) looming Oct. 22. Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko took offense to a question of whether the Panthers could look past Central Florida.
“Who may look past itâ¢ Not on our team,” Palko said. “We’re not that type of football team. We’ve had to fight to get five wins. By no means are we a top-five program yet. That’s something that no one has even brought up or talked about, except the guys that are talking about it being a ‘trap game.’ We have a short week; we don’t have enough time to worry about anybody else but Central Florida.”
• The Pitt-Rutgers game is likely to be either the Big East Game of the Week or an ESPN2 national game. If it’s the former, kickoff is noon on WTAE-TV (Channel 4); for the latter, kickoff is 5:45 p.m.
• Wannstedt gave three reasons for Palko’s play: 1.) a change in offensive philosophy, with fewer deep drops; 2.) an improved offensive line, especially in pass protection; and 3.) a different mind-set by Palko, who has bought into the system after starting 2005 as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
“You could ask anybody around the country, any NFL scout, and they’ll say, ‘Tyler is playing a high level. Whyâ¢ He’s not throwing interceptions. He’s not forcing the ball,'” Wannstedt said. “They don’t care how many 50-yard passes you throw. They’ll come out here in shorts and gym trunks and see you can throw the ball 50 yards. Can you get the ball to the open guy with pressure in your faceâ¢ That’s what they want to see, and that’s what he’s doing.”
• Wannstedt said the Panthers want to get freshman Dorin Dickerson more touches on offense, but he didn’t bite when asked if tackle Jason Pinkston would get a carry as the fullback in the goal-line “jumbo” sets.
“He’ll be lined up right behind Dorin, wanting to know what his package is,” Wannstedt said. “His package will be to block that 275-pounder.”
221 – LaRod Stephens-Howling’s rushing yards against Syracuse, the fifth-highest total in Division I-A this season.
353 – Northern Illinois’ Garrett Wolfe’s rushing yards against Ball State Sept. 30, the highest total this season.
– Kevin Gorman