PITTSBURGH (AP) -The preseason is over for Pitt, as evidenced by that visible frown coach Dave Wannstedt was wearing after an easy, but not impressive, victory over Grambling State last weekend.
The Panthers (2-0) did what was expected in beating Eastern Michigan (27-3) and Grambling (34-10), despite using a brand-new starting quarterback each time - Bill Stull in the first game, Kevan Smith in the second. Stull injured his thumb against Eastern Michigan and is out indefinitely.
But it gets tougher now for Pitt, with Michigan State (2-0) up next on Saturday in East Lansing. The Spartans ran for 335 yards while winning 38-25 in Pittsburgh last season, and that was against a Pitt team that didn't have to start a freshman at quarterback (Smith) or at running back (LeSean McCoy) as the Panthers may have to do Saturday.
Perhaps that's why Wannstedt wasn't all that happy with the first two games, despite the combined score of 61-13. It's apparent Wannstedt expected to see more improvement, more of an upgrade from game to game.
``We just have to go up there and take another step and play better than we did last week,'' Wannstedt said. ``Our guys know that.''
Still, going on the road with two very inexperienced skill position players can be a significant problem. McCoy, who ran for 107 yards and three touchdowns against Grambling in only his second college game, is expected to start in place of junior LaRod Stephens-Howling, who was limited to three carries Saturday and has a rib injury.
``I'm excited. I can't wait. It's going to be a big test for us, a different style of ball, but it's all new to me,'' McCoy said. ``So I just can't wait.'
While Pitt wasn't all that sharp in its first two games, Wannstedt sees improvement - at least from a year ago. Then, Pitt expected to play much better than it did against Michigan State after beating Virginia at home and Cincinnati on the road, but the Spartans game ended up being a preview of the unsteady 6-6 season that would follow.
``I thought that last year we got worn down as the game went on,'' Wannstedt said. ``It was a combination of three things: size and strength, our conditioning and our experience. I think this year we're better in all three of those phases.''
Even if experience would seem to be a question mark.
Smith, a redshirt freshman, played all right in his major college starting debut, throwing for 202 yards and a score, but Wannstedt was reserved in praising him after the game. This week, perhaps to build Smith's confidence, Wannstedt was more generous in his praise.
``I thought that Kevan Smith handled the game well,'' Wannstedt said. ``He had one turnover where he was falling down and he put the ball on the ground. That will cost us the game if the same thing happens against Michigan State. ... He had two or three simple throws that he'll make nine out of 10 times and, if he hits those, he could have been at about an 80 percent completion rate.''

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