Pitt coach Todd Graham expects a lot out of his "high-octane" offense. And his players realize he expects as much from them. So, when Graham described quarterback Tino Sunseri's 419-yard passing performance against Connecticut as "average," it might have piqued the interest of people on the outside of the program.
Among his players, however, Graham's coaching style is beginning to be better understood.
"Coach Graham is one of those guys that when you think you're doing a good job, he always thinks you can do better, and that's good," Sunseri said. "You're always striving to be the best you can possibly be.
"Coach Graham is always pointing out to me and other guys, 'Don't just try to be the best at the University of Pittsburgh; try to be the best in the country.' When you're in the film room, make sure you're studying more tape than anyone in the country. You want to be an overall football player, not just a guy on the field."
Sunseri was far from being just another guy on the field in Pitt's 35-20 victory a week ago against the Huskies. The 419 passing yards were the fourth-highest total in school history. Only Pete Gonzalez, John Congemi and John Ryan threw for more in a game.
Graham delivered his "average" assessment at his weekly news conference Monday.
"Coach said today they've thrown for 500 or 600 yards in a game," Sunseri said Tuesday morning after Pitt's workout at the UPMC South Side facility. "I guess that's a possibility, to throw for that much."
That would be plenty for Sunseri to stand alone in the record books. Gonzalez holds the record with 470 in a 1997 game against Rutgers. Congemi and Ryan are second and third on that list with 446 and 433 yards.
Sunseri and Graham agreed that the Panthers did not convert many of their opportunities in the passing game against the Huskies. Sunseri mentioned two plays where he failed to connect with receiver Devin Street.
The first was the first play when a chance for a big gain fizzled. The second was just before halftime on a deep sideline pass.
"Whenever I go back and dissect the tape and look at the plays left on the field, I could have played better and put more passes on people," Sunseri said.
Graham said the Panthers had their best practice of the year Tuesday morning in advance of the showdown Saturday against Cincinnati for a share of first place in the Big East Conference.
The Bearcats are alone atop the conference standings at 2-0. The Panthers are tied with West Virginia and Louisville at 2-1.
"There is a sense of excitement," Graham said. "They know we're playing for first place in the Big East this week. We talk to our guys a lot about how everyone wants to win a championship. Very few people are willing to practice and prepare to win a championship.
"Today, we practiced differently than we had all year long. Now, that has to transfer onto the field, but we're very excited. Our guys know what they're playing for."
If the Panthers are going to have a share of first place by late Saturday night, they're going to have to find a way to defend Bearcats senior quarterback Zach Collaros, who is coming off a 389-yard passing performance in a win against South Florida.
"He's a winner," senior linebacker Max Gruder said. "No matter what the situation is, he's going to give you everything he has. He's one of the best players I've ever played against. He's a leader, a thrower, a runner, a complete football player. I like the way he plays."
Collaros can hurt opponents running the ball, too. Earlier this season, he ran for 89 in a victory against Miami University and 52 in a win against North Carolina State.
"He's the definition of a dual-threat quarterback," Gruder said. "If anything breaks down, he can use his feet and still make positive yards."
• Offensive lineman Lucas Nix, who has missed the past three games with a knee injury, took about half the snaps with the first-team offense and remains on track to play against the Bearcats.
• Running back Ray Graham had surgery Monday to repair a torn ligament in his knee. Todd Graham said the surgery was "very clean" and that the timetable for recovery from an ACL injury such as Graham's is in the 6- to 8-month range.
• Game: Pitt (4-4, 2-1 Big East) vs. No. 23 Cincinnati (6-1, 2-0), Heinz Field.
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
• TV: ESPNU.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.