Twist, turns in Pitt football season come in 2s


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EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Pitt's first season under coach Paul Chryst took yet another unexpected twist Friday night in the Panthers' 24-17 Big East Conference loss to Connecticut at Rentschler Field.

The win came a week after Pitt took No. 4 Notre Dame to triple overtime, nearly ending Notre Dame's undefeated season.

Those two games, along with the season-opening loss to Youngstown State and a win against then-No. 14 Virginia Tech, have painted an up-and-down picture in Chryst's first year at the helm.

"I just think that any given Saturday, a team comes ready to play and you're not ready to play, you could lose," Pitt running back Ray Graham said after the loss to the Huskies. "That's why I really believe that the game's got to be played, no matter who you're playing against. If you take a team lightly, you'll be in for a rude awakening. I just think that we came out too flat this week."

Graham and Chryst denied that the team had any lingering mental hangover from a heartbreaking loss to the Irish, but Graham and quarterback Tino Sunseri admitted that Pitt (4-6, 1-4) came out sluggish against the Huskies.

Pitt fell behind, 10-0, after the first quarter, and trailed, 24-0, at halftime. The offense was especially stagnant, with just six first downs and 121 total yards in the first half.

"Whenever you're not able to go down and score in the first half, you're obviously not hitting on all cylinders," Sunseri said. "We just have to go out and prepare. You just have to give credit to UConn. They were doing some things stopping us, making plays defensively."

Trailing early, Pitt never got its running game going. The rushing statistics have been the biggest indicators of success this season. In its four wins, Pitt averages 42.5 rushes and 204.0 yards per game. In six losses, the Panthers run an average of 33.2 times per game for 96.5 yards per contest.

"When you go against a good defense, that happens," Chryst said after the Connecticut game, when Pitt ran 25 times for just 48 yards. "They made the play at the end, so to me they executed. They accomplished what they wanted to."

For as unpredictable as Pitt's performance may have been this season, the results have actually been fairly formulaic. The Panthers have alternated back-to-back losses and back-to-back wins.

With six losses, the Panthers must hope that pattern holds with victories against Rutgers and South Florida to close out the season if they want to make a bowl game this season. Pitt has made a bowl game every year since 2008.

"Yeah, it's been a roller coaster this season, but we've got two more games to go," Graham said. "We've got to finish strong, find a way to win these two games."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com or on Twitter: @SWernerPG. First Published November 11, 2012 5:00 AM


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