By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Take a quick look at Pittsburgh’s stats and you will notice that running back Ray Graham leads the nation in rushing with a 161.0-yard average. That, however, is one of the few bright spots.
Yes, the Panthers are 2–0, but it is a very soft 2–0, with a 35–16 win over Buffalo and a 35–29 win over FCS opponent Maine. Todd Graham’s teams at Tulsa were among the most explosive in college football, but that has yet to translate at Pittsburgh — despite the inferior competition. The Panthers rank 62nd in the nation in total offense (395.5 ypg) and are tied for 45th in scoring (35.0 ppg). Those numbers aren’t bad, but we expected to see much more production from Pitt after home games against a team that went 1–7 in the MAC last year (Buffalo) and team that went 4–6 against FCS opponents in 2010 (Maine).
Graham is remaining upbeat, but he admits the offense has been a disappointment.
“Offensively it’s just decision-making,” he says. “We’re really close. We sit there and watch the film but we’re not executing the system. Somebody asked me, ‘Are you where you thought you would be?’ No, I thought we would be doing better than how we are executing what we’re doing. In this offense you can’t ad-lib. You’ve got to be extremely disciplined every play to read your key and distribute the ball and this offense is a timing offense.”
Graham has placed some of the blame on the offensive line — “We’ve got two new guys playing up front on the offensive line that have made some errors which are not surprising,” he says — but Pittsburgh must get better play from quarterback Tino Sunseri. The junior has completed 58 percent of his attempts but only has one touchdown pass in 63 attempts. This offense simply needs gaudier numbers from the quarterback position. And Graham believes Sunseri can deliver — even though he temporarily pulled his quarterback in favor of Trey Anderson against Maine.
“Tino Sunseri is our quarterback,” he said earlier this week. “We’ve got confidence that he’s going to get it done. Has he played well? No, he hasn’t played well. He’s made some good plays, but he’s got to play better and execute our system, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. I’ve seen him do it in practice, I’ve seen him do it in games, and in this system there’s no question I think he can be successful and he’s a guy that has come a long way in his work ethic and all those things.”
Sunseri and the Panthers now dive into a very difficult part of the schedule. This weekend, they head to Iowa and then return home for dates with Notre Dame and South Florida. Despite the early season struggles, this is still a quality football team, one that should be in the hunt for the Big East title.
AROUND THE BIG EAST
• Connecticut has struggled offensively, but the Huskies appear to have found their next big-time running back. With expected starter D.J. Shoemate out with an injury, redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs, a lightly recruited 2-star prospect, has rushed for 259 yards on 51 carries through two games. Against Vanderbilt, McCombs accounted for 123 of the Huskies’ 193 total yards of offense.
• Louisville has scored a total of seven points in the second half of its games against Murray State (a win) and FIU (a loss).
• Rutgers’ four running backs netted 18 yards on 20 carries in a 24–22 loss to North Carolina. Through two games, prized freshman Savon Huggins has 32 yards on 17 carries.
• Cincinnati has given up at least 27 points in 13 straight games against BCS conference opponents.
• The West Virginia defense has yet to allow a touchdown this season.
• South Florida’s B.J. Daniels threw for a career-high 359 yards in the Bulls’ 37–7 win over Ball State. Daniels’ previous best was 286 yards in a win over Cincinnati last season.