Reed had the post on Tino Sunseri pointing out the good games he’s had. The debate rages. I think I have pointed out in the past (or at least in some liveblogs) that many of us are so frustrated with Sunseri, that every mistake is magnified. It becomes a glaring problem that outweighs anything else he does. I know I have that issue. Most of last year, it was harder to acknowledge when Sunseri did things right. But the minute he made a mistake, I saw it and saw red.
The thing that Reed’s piece made me wonder, though, was how many games has Sunseri actually cost Pitt? I’m not talking simply he didn’t play well. I mean, that the lion’s share of the blame should fall on Sunseri for the outcome. For example, losing to Miami 31-3 in 2010 and Rutgers 34-10 in 2011, Sunseri was hideously bad. At the same time, you can’t say, if an average QB was out there things would have been significantly different. The O-line in both games was completely overwhelmed. And the defense didn’t hold well.
In the two years Sunseri has started, Pitt has been 14-12. Worse, in games decided by 7 points or less against 1-A teams, Pitt went 2-7 (3-7 if you include the 6-point win over 1-AA Maine last year). That’s a lot of close losses, and again, does not reflect well on Sunseri.
Let’s first note the close wins. There was last year’s 21-14 win over Louisville on the road. One, I think most will credit Sunseri with playing well (enough). The other was in 2010: beating USF 17-10. A game that no one desreved to win. It was won mainly on the ground, and Sunseri at least played well in the second half — not really throwing much in the game — not to cost Pitt.
Now the losses.
Utah, 27-24. Yes and no. It was Sunseri’s first start. It was on the road. The whole team — on both sides of the ball — was shaky in the first half. He did get better in the second half, helping to lead the comeback. Wannstedt chose to play for overtime late (conservative, defensible, and utterly predictable). Then Tino threw the boneheaded interception on Pitt’s first play of the OT. Defense gave up 405 yards. Running game was under 100 (even when you take out the Sunseri sacks). I would call this one a push. Both pro and con probably have a case. I lean towards not putting this loss on him. Too many other other issues in this game to blame that loss on Sunseri.
Notre Dame, 23-17: This was on Sunseri. Three times in the first half, Pitt was inside the 20, and came away with 3 points. Forget the missed FG and the botched hold that cost the other FG. Forget the questionable decisionmaking by Wannstedt late in the game. Not being able to do anything in the redzone. That’s just plain bad work by the QB.
UConn, 30-28: Not on Sunseri. Yes, he threw 2 interceptions, but this loss fell on the defense and special teams. Jordan Todman and UConn’s O-line pushed Pitt around all game. A QB with only 2 TD passes all season burned Pitt twice on TD tosses. Then there was the special teams, that allowed a 95-yard TD return and fumbled the ensuing kickoff at the 7 to allow another score.
Iowa, 31-27: In a way a lot like the NC State game Pitt lost in 2009 with Bill Stull. Pitt came out doing everything right. The offense was flowing. The QB was hot. Then the defense died in the second half, and that arguably should be where the blame falls… But the lingering image is of the QB mistakes at the end of the game when it was still within reach. Plus, Reed made quite a compelling case for the blame going on Sunseri. Verdict: bad Sunseri, bad.
Notre Dame, 15-12: One worn down defense in the second half. One quarterback who wilted in the waning moments with the game in his hands. Add a coach who made some big mistakes in using timeouts early and chasing points. Push.
Cinci, 26-23: Oh, yay. Another come from ahead loss. We can credit Sunseri for helping to build the 23-13 lead after a TD pass to start the third quarter, that Pitt held until a field goal by Cinci with four minutes left in the third quarter. And once again Sunseri unraveled as the game got tight. Cinci quickly added a TD after a Sunseri fumble on the next series. An Sunseri interception on a deflected pass on the very next series paved the road for the go-ahead FG to start the 4th quarter. Pitt did nothing the rest of the game, until a final drive stalled to force a 50-yard FG attempt to tie and send the game to OT. Yeah, this one was on Sunseri.
WVU, 21-20: The trend of Sunseri not being able to handle tight situations late reached its apex in this game. Pitt came out for this game with intensity on both sides of the ball. Pitt had a 20-7 lead in the third quarter. Sunseri collapsed as the Hoopies began to score.
Final tally: 4 on Sunseri (ND 2010, Iowa, Cinci and WVU), 1 not his fault (UConn), 2 pushes (Utah and ND 2011).
I think I could make a case that 2010’s disappointing season was not so much on Sunseri. Only the ND game truly stands out as a game that Pitt should have won, but for Sunseri. 2011, however, really bore his stain.
This is the most damning thing about Sunseri as the QB. The biggest reason fans don’t want to see him out there. It’s not his arm strength. It is not his “leadership” qualities. It is not his accuracy, or decisionmaking. It is how he performs late in the games when it matters. Whether it is holding a lead or making the comeback. He simply does not handle it. No one believes he can at this point.