I don’t know what to say at this point. I thought I had come to terms with Sunseri. I thought I had accepted the reality of the situation. Sunseri was the best option at QB. Not that he was great. Not that he was even particularly good. Just that he was the best option.
He had the experience. A coach’s son who knows what is expected. He supposedly worked hard and was smart enough. Picked up the system best. And if nothing else, no one else even challenged him in spring practices and training camp. There’s no alumni conspiracy at work to keep Sunseri as the starter. There’s really nothing more at work than the core belief of just about any coach — the guy who does the best in practice is going to start.
And yet, when it comes time for the game, there is no consistency. If anything, he just gets worse deeper into the game. He stops setting his feet. He doesn’t get rid of the ball. He doesn’t make a decision. All the coaching that is supposed to help a player do the right thing. To slow the game down and see the field. It goes out the window. Instead, the game speeds up on Sunseri. He doesn’t process. He doesn’t think. For lack of another way of putting it, he freezes.
In two years as a starter, the only time he led the team when behind in the 4th quarter was the opening game against Utah in 2010. He led the team to tie and send it to overtime (and, yes promptly tossed an INT in the OT). In games of six points or less, Pitt with Sunseri at the QB is 1-6 (and that 1 is Maine).
I don’t like typing that. I really don’t. But the evidence on the field has been hard to ignore. And the beat writers. The guys who have seen him practice, talked to him, talked to the coaches, more than I or anyone who comments are seeing the same thing:
Sunseri clearly held the ball too long on several sacks — something he has done most of this season — while failing to process what he saw in time to find open receivers. Graham said he was puzzled by the situation.
I don’t want to dump on the receivers today, because some of them were getting open, but Drew Carswell, Devin Street and Mike Shanahan could have helped their quarterback by making a couple of clutch plays that were available.
After 11 games in Graham’s offense, Sunseri has not mastered the rhythmic concept of 1-2-3, ball out, that is essential to making it go. And that’s puzzling because Sunseri is a bright student-athlete and a dedicated worker. Can it be that difficult? I don’t think so.
What is even more troubling is that Sunseri admitted to being “a little flustered” on Pitt’s last possession, while trying to keep an eye on the pass rush, look for an open receiver and not get called for intentional grounding.
Todd Graham tried very hard not to throw Tino Sunseri under the bus but his frustration level with Sunseri is very easy to see. He has preached about getting rid of the ball, throwing the ball away, tucking it and running – doing something but taking bad sacks.
And yet, with the game on the line, Sunseri took two of the worst sacks I’ve ever seen. Pitt faced a second-and-18 from its own 36, trailing by one, with 35 seconds left with no time-outs and Sunseri scrambled around and then inexplicably allowed Najee Goode chase him down and catch him and sack him – instead of just throwing the ball away.
Sunseri admitted after the game he should have thrown the ball away and that he needs to stop holding the ball and just throw it away.
I asked Graham about Sunseri and Graham really composed himself and just said “it is puzzling, I don’t understand it, it was disappointing because it was obviously not what we were trying to execute. You can’t take sacks, we sat there and took one right after another.”
Graham was asked a followup but still wouldn’t go there and even used the phrase “I’m not going to go there” but there is no question he has had enough of watching Sunseri take sacks.
** Here are two mind-boggling stats – Pitt gave up nine sacks in its final 25 plays and that includes giving up four sacks in the final seven plays from scrimmage. I can’t make that up – that is so ridiculously bad it is almost impossible to believe. But again, a lot of those sacks were not on the line.
For Pitt fans it has been 2 years of watching Sunseri repeat the same mistakes. To keep making his “correctable mistakes” over and over again. This has been a new coaching staff. A new group thinking they could fix things. For them, it has only been this season to try and make it work. They have tried to reopen competition. Yo-yo another QB in. Declare absolute confidence in Sunseri so he isn’t looking over his shoulder. Continually simplified and slowed down the offense. Further gone to emphasizing the run to take the pressure off him to make plays. At best, they have been short-term fixes that briefly seemed to do the trick before Sunseri reverted. What is left?
The question is, what to do? Pitt is sitting at 5-6. There is no shortage of open bowl slots, even for 6-6 Big East teams. The Liberty Bowl now has an open spot with the SEC not having enough qualifying teams — and will take a Big East team. It will be the final home game for the seniors. The season finale is against 5-6 Syracuse. A Cuse team that has lost 4 straight since their stunning dismantling of West Virginia.
We don’t know the status of Zach Brown — bruised sternum — for the game. That could mean a potential backfield of freshmen Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis. Ronald Jones — the WR, punt returner and wildcat QB — suffered a concussion in the Brawl, so he will be a question mark. Devin Street is unknown.
Does that give Mark Myers a real chance? Is Pitt best served by going with Sunseri for this final game. Trying to win on senior day. Trying to get to a bowl. Giving the team more time to practice — and possibly make the change after December 3.
I honestly don’t have a good answer. I know what emotion says. Bench him. Pull the plug. Anything so I don’t have to see it again. But I can’t truthfully say that is the best option for this team and the next game.