Tough guy Stull leads Pitt

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
In the first half at Navy last week, Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy caught a screen pass near the right sideline and swerved back all the way to the other side of the field. One of his only blockers remaining was quarterback Bill Stull, who eagerly went after Navy cornerback Ketric Buffin.

"I wanted to get a nice little pancake," Stull said. "I tripped up a little bit and he ended up getting me. But I got him down."

That play in many ways symbolizes what Stull brings to the Panthers. He's never afraid to take a hit or do the dirty work. It's not always pretty. But he gets the job done.

McCoy gets the headlines and the defense provides the backbone, yet it's Stull at the controls for No. 17 Pitt (5-1). And he's still learning on the job.

The junior won the starting job out of training camp last year but suffered a season-ending thumb injury in the first game against Eastern Michigan. So even though he'll turn 22 later in the year, he's basically a rookie.

"I think it's a work in progress every game," Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Every week he's seeing a little different defense, little bit different coverages and games that are a little different. All those things go into maturing and becoming as good as you can be."

Stull's statistics don't leap off the page. He's completing 58.5 percent of his passes and has five interceptions to just four touchdown passes.

He's prone to the occasional bonehead play, like when he forced a throw toward the Navy goal line that resulted in a 91-yard interception return and led to a Midshipmen touchdown. His deep balls linger in the air a bit too long.

As Pitt has opened up its offense, though, Stull has also engineered some big plays. He tossed a 60-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Baldwin at Navy and found Baldwin for a 52-yard score at South Florida. Most importantly, he's led his team to five straight wins.

"He's playing well and you can see they've made a commitment to him," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, whose team plays Pitt on Saturday. "Sometimes early in the year he made some passes he didn't want to throw, but they came right back throwing it. You can tell they believe in him as a quarterback, and I see why. He's getting better every game and he's able to throw the ball accurately down the field."

One reason his team believes in Stull is his willingness to play through pain. Against Iowa, he stood in and made throws while defenders arrived to slam him into the turf. So much so that he injured his hip during the game and couldn't practice the following Monday.

"It wasn't a great week for me health-wise," he said. "I was getting four or five hours of treatment every day, which meant I was getting up at 5:30 a.m. and staying after practice. It was tough, but then again it's going to take a lot more than a little hip injury to take me out of a game."

Stull got back to practice that Wednesday and played against Syracuse, though he was far from 100 percent. He took a couple shots straight on the hip but played through it.

"He's definitely a tough guy, no question about that," Wannstedt said. "He's got the respect of all the coaches and all the players. He's been banged around a little bit, and he comes in every day and shows up, right there in the middle of it."

Stull says one reason he pushes through any pain is because he knows what it's like to sit out a season. He described himself as "down in the dumps" after last year's injury. There was something good to come out of it, though. He got to spend a whole year studying the game and his position and saw the game more like a coach, which he'd like to do when he's done playing.

"I can't ever see myself doing anything without football," he said.

And right now, Pitt can't see itself with anyone but Bill Stull at quarterback.