Some Pitt thoughts, with 25 percent of the regular season gone:
– There wasn’t much talk about the offensive line after the 35-17 victory against No. 13 Virginia Tech, so let’s correct that.
Several times when quarterback Tino Sunseri dropped back to pass, he was given a comfortable pocket in which to operate. He was sacked only once after Cincinnati dropped him six times.
Some holes for running backs Ray Graham and Rushel Shell were stunningly wide. That’s how you accumulate 537 yards of total offense.
Senior offensive linemen Ryan Turnley and Chris Jacobson are playing well, but — more importantly — are setting a standard in terms of work ethic that has helped younger players Matt Rotheram, Cory King and Ryan Schlieper.
Keep ‘em all healthy, and Pitt might have a chance to build a powerful running game.
– I asked Sunseri if the victory was his biggest in 29 starts at Pitt. He surprised me a bit when he said, “I’m not sure.” No embellishment, banter or speculation at all.
I didn’t know what to make of that answer. Either he didn’t want to get caught up in reflecting on his career and putting labels on one victory (he is, after all, the son of a coach); or, he had enough of the interview and wanted to go home.
I thought I’d help Sunseri put the victory in perspective, so I looked back at his previous 14 victims, and couldn’t find one — not even last year’s South Florida game — in which he played so well against a difficult opponent.
Here are the schools Pitt defeated with Sunseri at quarterback (before Saturday): New Hampshire, Florida International, Buffalo, Maine, Syracuse (twice), Rutgers, Louisville (twice), South Florida (twice), Cincinnati, Connecticut and Kentucky.
Sorry, Tino, Virginia Tech is your biggest. Just in case, you were wondering.
Of course, Saturday’s victory can be trumped if Pitt goes on to win the Big East, something that looked like a dream as recently as Saturday morning and now appears possible, if not probable.
– When Trib columnist Joe Starkey asked Sunseri to describe his feelings after what was, at least, a satisfying victory and, at best, a historic moment in his career, Sunseri said:
“I’m just ready to get out of here and go watch my dad play.”
Dad is former Pitt All-American linebacker Sal Sunseri, the defensive coordinator of Tennessee, which was playing Florida on Saturday night.
– One more Tino note: It was obvious he played much of the fourth quarter with a painful shin injury, but he had no intention of coming out of the game, although I did see backup Trey Anderson inching toward the field at one point.
Asked about the injury, Sunseri never batted an eye and said, “I’m fine.”
Then, he grabbed his crutches and walked away.
– Something said by wide receiver Devin Street might help explain Sunseri’s attitude toward the media and outsiders in general (none of whom have been especially kind to the Pitt football program in the past two years).
Said Street: “We are all we have, and I think we realized that today. We’ve been through a lot the last couple years, but (Saturday), we just stuck together.”
– By the way, Mike Shanahan and Street are playing well. Shanahan leads the Panthers with 16 receptions for 224 yards and a touchdown; Street’s numbers are 13, 178 and 1. I especially liked Street’s 13-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. While on the run toward the back of the end zone, he initially looked over his right shoulder, couldn’t find the football, quickly switched his head to the left and made the catch that gave Pitt a 14-0 lead.
– Pitt’s defense showed up Saturday, getting four turnovers and showing a little depth. Redshirt freshman Devin Cook made his first career start after playing most of the summer as a backup and forced a fumble, hurried the quarterback and led all linemen with five tackles. Also, fifth-year senior outside linebacker Manny Williams started for the first time and recorded two pass break-ups.
– Graham continues to astound with his recovery from knee surgery. He scored three touchdowns and ran for 94 yards after word had been circulated before the game that he might not play.
Graham’s three touchdowns are nowhere close to the 102-year-old school record of six (Norman Bill Budd against Ohio in 1910).
– One final statistical note: Pitt was 23 short of having a 300-yard passer, two 100-yard rushers and one 100-yard receiver. Rushel Shell rushed for 157 while Graham had 94, Sunseri threw for 283 and Shanahan had 111 in receptions.
– Pitt’s 537 yards of total offense (283 passing, 254 rushing) marked its best single-game production since getting 584 against Boston College in 2000. The Panthers surpassed 520 twice last season against South Florida (523)and Connecticut (529).