Pitt Football: Panthers overcome sloppy play to roust Black Bears

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There were two things about Pitt's game Saturday against Maine which should make Panthers coaches happy when they sit down to look at the tape today.

One is that the Panthers won, 35-29, before a crowd of 41,230 at Heinz Field and improved to 2-0; the other is that Ray Graham rushed for 117 yards and three touchdowns and also had five catches for 30 yards.

The second item is not exactly a shocker, and the first nearly was a foregone conclusion, considering the Black Bears are a Division I-AA team.

"About the most positive thing I can say is we are 2-0," Graham said. "But we definitely played down to the level of competition. We just didn't play very well, we have to work hard to get better. We had too many mistakes, we are killing ourselves by making mental errors.

"We're playing good offense for periods of time, then we turn the football over. I have tremendous belief in our guys and what we are doing, but it was very lackluster.

"And, defensively, we're giving up stupid plays in the passing game. It's ridiculous and it should not be happening."

Graham credited Maine with playing a strong game, and some of the Panthers problems were due to what the Black Bears did well.

The bottom line is quarterback Tino Sunseri got off to a slow start and never seemed to settle in, the offensive line gave up seven sacks and the Panthers pass defense was shredded for 334 of the Black Bears 371 total yards.

Pitt kicker Kevin Harper also missed another field goal and an extra point, and a bad snap on a punt led to a shanked kick that set up the Black Bears for a touchdown.

Sunseri was replaced by backup Trey Anderson with 12:33 left and the Panthers leading 28-15.

Todd Graham said he simply wanted to get Anderson some work against an opponent Pitt "should dominate," but the timing of the change raised a few eyebrows because it came right after Sunseri threw his second interception of the game.

"In all honesty, the last interception that Tino threw was on us [the coaching staff]," Graham said. "We planned on putting Trey in anyway, it wasn't that I pulled Tino, it was a planned deal, we were going to play [Anderson] anyway. I still have 100 percent belief in Tino and like I told you at the beginning of the year, he has a very difficult job, he has a lot on his plate and we've got to execute better at that position.

"But Tino is our quarterback and will be next week, and we will move forward from there. I didn't want to come out of this week, playing against an opponent we should totally dominate, and not get another quarterback any reps."

Sunseri completed 21 of35 passes for 224 yards and two interceptions, but he also made some uncharacteristically bad decisions, especially early when the Panthers had chances to make big plays.

Anderson, meanwhile, did his part to fuel a quarterback controversy by leading the Panthers on an 11-play, 52-yard scoring drive.

He completed 5 of 7 passes for 33 yards and, despite limited playing time, showed command of the offense. He also showed he is athletic enough to run the ball.

Sunseri said he knew Anderson was going to play, so he was not caught off guard by the move and never thought he was benched.

"We're 2-0, you need to take the positive out of it and learn from the negatives," Sunseri said. "Last year at this point, we were 1-1 but we're 2-0 and a lot of teams around college football right now are getting upset by teams beneath them. [Coach Graham] said that he wanted to get Trey in the game, so he could get experience and said he felt we had enough of a lead to get him in."

Anderson was warming up after Sunseri's first interception earlier in the game, said there is no quarterback controversy, but he was happy that he got some experience.

"Coach Graham had told me before the game that I would be getting in," Anderson said. "Tino is a great quarterback, I have all the confidence in the world in him and I know he will do great.

"We all struggle at times, but he will rebound. I'm here to compete, and that is what I am going to do."

Although the offensive woes often are blamed on the quarterback, Graham said that the offensive line and the coaching staff deserve a lion's share of the blame.

He was frustrated by the sacks because he said the Black Bears did not do anything special to achieve them. That means Pitt's offensive line just did not do its job.

"It was absolutely nothing they were doing, there is absolutely no excuse," the coach said.

"We just didn't play good. We made a lot of mental errors, and I'm not going to make excuses for anything and I'm going to tell you who is responsible for that -- it is the guy you are looking at. Period."

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720. First Published September 11, 2011 4:00 AM


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