Pitt coach Graham points finger at himself

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Pitt coach Todd Graham said Tuesday that he is not placing the blame for Pitt's offensive struggles and lack of execution on his players alone.

"I have a great deal of confidence in these players," Graham said, trying to clarify remarks he made Monday during a news conference. "I really like how the team leaders have taken ownership of this team. And one of the things that I want to make perfectly clear is that everything we do, I am accountable for. Period. I am.

"I'm not pointing fingers and you will never hear excuses come from me. When I say 'we' aren't getting the ball out, I'm not talking about Tino Sunseri. I'm not talking about Trey Anderson. I am talking about 'we.' I'm talking about [quarterbacks coach] Todd Dodge. I'm talking about Todd Graham, because it is our responsibility to coach and teach them.

"So I want to make sure everybody understands that I believe in these kids. And I want to make sure to our fans, our fan base and everybody out there, we're going to get there and the one who is responsible for that is me and that is how it works."

On Monday Graham said the offense was plagued by poor execution and the fact that passes were not being thrown on time by quarterback Tino Sunseri. He also said the Panthers had poor fundamentals and made too many mistakes to be successful.

"Someone asked me today, 'What do you think is wrong with the offense?' " he said Monday. "We are not running it. That is what is wrong with it. So as soon as we start running it, [it will produce]. The main thing is being disciplined enough to do what they are coached to do."

Big East play begins

The Panthers play their Big East opener Thursday night against South Florida after two tough non-conference games. Many fans and analysts predicted that the Big East would be down this year and nothing it has shown to this point contradicts that notion.

Big East teams are 21-9 in non-conference games thus far. There were some decent wins against BCS-conference opponents mixed in but, for the most part, the Big East has lost every big game it has played.

The conference is only 5-8 against BCS-conference teams and of those five wins, only one -- South Florida's 23-20 win against Notre Dame -- is particularly meaningful. The other four BCS wins by the conference are Cincinnati against North Carolina State, Louisville against Kentucky, Syracuse against Wake Forest and West Virginia against Maryland.

When it comes to winning meaningful games the conference has fallen flat, starting with West Virginia's 26-point destruction at the hands of LSU. Pitt lost to Iowa after blowing a 21-point lead and lost to Notre Dame a week later.

Syracuse was crushed by Southern California, 38-17, Cincinnati lost to Tennessee, 45-23, and Connecticut has losses to Iowa State, 24-20, and Vanderbilt, 24-21. Rutgers lost to North Carolina, 24-22.

Still, Graham believes the road to a Big East championship will be long and hard because the league is competitive from top to bottom.

"No, I think it's a dogfight every week," Graham said. "It is exactly what I expected to see out of the Big East. I have watched the film from the last two years and that's how it has always been. I have had the opportunity to watch Cincinnati, WVU, Syracuse, Rutgers and, naturally, South Florida on TV.

"Every single one of those teams are very good. You are going to have to bring it every single week."

Familiar with Holtz

Graham and South Florida coach Skip Holtz have some history on and off the field as both are former Conference USA coaches. Graham was the head coach at Rice in 2006 and at Tulsa from 2007-10, and Holtz was the head coach at East Carolina from 2005-09.

Holtz is 2-1 against Graham as East Carolina beat Tulsa in 2008 (27-24 in the Conference USA championship game) and '09 (44-17). Graham's win came in '06 when Rice beat the Pirates, 18-17.

Graham said the Bulls will be disciplined, play with passion and energy and won't beat themselves because those are the marks of a team coached by Holtz.

"I like Skip a whole lot. He is one of the classiest people I know in this business," Graham said. "His wife and Skip are friends of me and [Graham's wife, Penni]. He is a great sportsman. He is tough to compete against. He is a first class guy and runs a good program."

One of the things that I want to make perfectly clear is that everything we do, I am accountable for. Period. I am."

-- Todd Graham


• Game: Pitt (2-2) vs. No. 16 South Florida (4-0) in the Big East opener, Heinz Field.

• When: 8 p.m. Thursday.


• The skinny: The Bulls are No. 6 in NCAA Div. I-A in total offense (523.3 ypg) and No. 10 in scoring (45.5 ppg).

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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