Pitt was far from midseason form Saturday night in its mistake-filled, opening-week loss against Youngstown State. The same couldn't be said for its fan base.
Many of the 40,837 fans who endured the rainy conditions lustily booed Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, which has become as much a part of the Heinz Field game-day experience as "Sweet Caroline" being played over the public-address system.
Much of the booing came after Sunseri misfired on a couple of deep passes that could have resulted in big plays. But other than those mistakes -- which may or may not have been his fault -- the passing game clicked throughout the contest.
While the running game was inconsistent and killed the offense's momentum by getting stopped on a crucial fourth-and-1 midway through the third quarter, Sunseri had an efficient game. He was 19 for 30 for 239 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
"I thought protection was pretty good, I thought guys made some plays, and there were some good runs after the catch," coach Paul Chryst said. "There are some things we can absolutely build on in the passing game, and that's a credit to the guys. They put in a lot of work, and you'd like to be able to see them do that in a game."
Sunseri completed passes to seven players. Senior Mike Shanahan led with six catches for 54 yards. Devin Street and Hubie Graham each had four.
"He had great rhythm back there," senior center Ryan Turnley said. "He was getting rid of the ball quick, and that helps us out. We were able to give him a little bit of time and keep him feeling comfortable."
Sunseri said much of the passing game's success evolved because Youngstown State sold out to stop running backs Ray Graham and Isaac Bennett. Given Graham's credentials, Sunseri said it will be up to the passing game to come through in many games this season, including Thursday at Cincinnati, because other teams will take a similar approach.
"They came out and understood they needed to stop the run," Sunseri said of Youngstown State. "Whenever you have [Graham] in the backfield, that's the guy you have to concentrate on. If they do that, you have to be able to go through the air and make plays. That's what we have to be able to do. We have to be able to be one of those offenses that can either pass or run, dictating what the defense does. A lot of people think that the defense dictates what the offense does. The offense should be able to dictate what the defense does. We want to attack and cover all areas."
Chryst said Tuesday the door still is open for the six players who were suspended before the Youngstown State game to play Thursday. A decision will be made before the team's flight leaves for Cincinnati this afternoon. If the players remain on suspension, they will not travel with the team.
Defensive linemen Tyrone Ezell and Shayne Hale, receivers Ronald Jones and Chris Davis, running back Rushel Shell and defensive back Anthony Gonzalez missed Pitt's loss against the Penguins for "disciplinary reasons."
"I like the way guys are approaching it right now, them included," Chryst said.
Graham has been responding well the week after playing his first game in the past 10 months, according to Chryst.
Chryst said Graham experienced a bit more soreness than usual, but that was to be expected. Graham had 14 carries for 72 yards against Youngstown State in his first game since suffering a torn ACL last October.
"He did come out of it all right," Chryst said. "Got some good work in [Monday], so that was a positive I believe. He's more sore than he was after some of the other practices, but he did a lot more. Talking with him and seeing him, I felt all right."
A season-opening loss against a Division I-AA opponent can be discouraging, especially for a young team. Turnley said the underclassmen have to follow the older players' lead and learn how to prepare.
"We have to get these guys to understand what it takes to win in college, the preparation that it's going to take," he said. "They're eager. They're willing to do it. It might take some time, but they're eager, which is exciting for me, having young guys who want to come in and work."
Turnley said he benefited from the guidance of seniors when he was a younger player.
"Whenever I was a young guy, I was privileged to have the guys who were here -- CJ Davis, John Malecki, Jason Pinkston," Turnley said. "For me, it might have been easier. I'm just trying to provide the same thing for these young guys."
• Game: Pitt at Cincinnati, 8 p.m.
• TV: ESPN.
Staff writer Sam Werner contributed. Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published September 5, 2012 4:00 AM