Pitt: Offense, Sunseri improve

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Pitt has scored 106 points in its past three games, and that speaks volumes about how far the offense has come since it melted down in a 31-3 loss to Miami in September.

Quarterback Tino Sunseri said the Panthers now have a better understanding of the offensive system and are taking what the defense gives them.

Sunseri has completed more passes to tight ends and running backs (18) than receivers (16) over the past two games mostly because he has been throwing to his secondary receivers instead of trying to force big plays down the field.

For example, Pitt beat Rutgers, 41-21 Oct. 23 when Sunseri completed seven passes (for 51 yards) to fullback Henry Hynoski. Pitt's top two receivers -- Jon Baldwin and Mike Shanahan -- combined to catch eight.

Sunseri said those numbers indicate he is learning how to play the position and the Panthers have become more difficult to defend.

"As you grow and mature and play in this position, you learn what you are seeing and begin to trust in what you are seeing," Sunseri said. "It is about taking what they give you and understanding that, if they are going to keep giving you the little stuff, you keep on taking it, and then, all of the sudden, here comes a big play down the field."

The Panthers continue to have problems inside the 20. They had four such red-zone chances in their 20-3 win Saturday against Louisville but came away with one touchdown and 13 points.

Sunseri said the offense has been held back by little breakdowns and miscues.

"We can't kill ourselves, we need to make sure every play is a positive play," Sunseri said. "We had the bad exchange between the center and quarterback -- and that is always my fault -- and, whenever we are down [in the red zone], we need to make sure that, if we pass the ball there, is proper spacing.

"It is just finishing; sometimes you have to give credit to the defense because they are making good plays, but we want to be sure as an offense that we are doing everything we can to make positive plays, and we feel like we shot ourselves in the foot a few times and we just have to clean those things up.

"When we score touchdowns, it puts some pressure on the opposing offense that they know they need to score to keep up with us, [and] it helps out our defense [because] it can get the opposing offense off their game a little because they start pressing to try and score.."

Although the numbers are impressive for Pitt's offense recently, Sunseri believes the unit hasn't begun to realize its potential. He also said a number of players (himself, offensive tackle Jordan Gibbs, wide receiver Devin Street) are improving each week as they gain experience.

"With the way our offense is built, we feel like we can put up a lot more points than we have," Sunseri said. "We haven't put together a full game, and that is what we are trying to do -- come together and play for 60 minutes.

"I just know with the weapons we have, with the players we have, with the offensive line and with the scheme we have, if we can put together a full game and play mistake-free football, we can be very good."

NOTES -- Coach Dave Wannstedt is hopeful defensive end Greg Romeus will be able to return for the Connecticut game Thursday night, but he said no decision has been made yet. "Sunday is the day where, we will have to make a decision," Wannstedt said. "We have to see where he is at by then, but I've been very encouraged."

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com .


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