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October 5, 2012

Forging an Identity

Filed under: Big East,Conference,Football,Players — Reed @ 10:51 am

Because this has been a bye week we’ve had 13 days to reflect on the 2-2 start PITT has had so far and have looked both at the wins and losses from many different angles.  However, we are still collectively scratching our heads as to just what sort of football team we actually have in Paul Chryst’s first season as our head coach.

To recap: we shat the bed in a 31-17 loss against YSU; play pretty poorly again in a 34-10 drubbing by Cincinnati; played to a convincing win against a 13th ranked Virginia Tech which was even more lopsided save a VT punt return and a 85 yard passing TD then soundly beat a lesser opponent in Gardner Web in a 55-10 rout.

Huh?  So which of those games is the real indication of what this 2012 team is made of?  Well, that isn’t easy to answer.  Sometimes if you peel back the scores and look at how a team actually played football in their games, regardless of wins or losses, you can get to the tenor of how the team produced on the field.

Prior to this season most PITT fans felt that, on offense at least, the running game was going to have to pull the weight given Tino Sunseri’s poor play in 2011.  That wasn’t an unreasonable thought given that we had Ray Graham, arguably the best RB in college football, along with Isaac Bennett returning and true freshman Rushel Shell arriving on the scene.  That’s an impressive stable of running backs to rotate carries through.

But what have we actually seen out on the playing field when it comes to these two phases of offense?  On the face of it the running game is producing.  At present we are running at a rather average overall clip.  We have rushed the ball 162 times for 750 yards and seven TDs.  That’s 4.6 ypc and while that isn’t poor it certainly isn’t the hallmark of a strong running team.

I like to look at how the stats shake out when you drop the big outliers.  If we take Ray Graham’s 78 yard TD away he’s carrying the ball at a 4.3 ypc rate.  Of course he did run for that nice long TD but on the whole when he’s been given the chance he’s been pretty average moving the ball forward.

Rushel Shell blew up in the VT game going for 157 yards at 6.8 ypc.  That was a great effort.  However in his other two games, he was suspended for the opener, he’s 21 rushes for 72 yards at a 3.4 rate.  These are the earmarks of an inconsistent running game and, to me at least, that is very worrisome.

Jump to the passing game and we see much more consistency over these four games.  Sunseri is currently 80/119 for 1144 yards with 67.2 % completion rate and has eight TDs to two INTs.  Damn good stats all around.  Perhaps most impressive is that he’s averaging 9.61 yards per attempt with a 14.3 yards per completion rate – and that’s without all those silly bubble screens and quick passes out to the WRs at the line of scrimmage that we saw the last two years.  Those are big time numbers for our QB and show that he’s throwing, and completing passes, downfield which was a major concern over the off season.

These are gaudy numbers that have landed him at 15th nationally in Passing Effeciency; 20th in Passing yards per game and, least importantly IMO, 46th in Passing which is only based on completions per game.  However, does that tell the whole story in Sunseri’s play so far?  No, it doesn’t.

He’s played well so far but his lack of consistency, while lesser than in years past, raised its ugly head again in our Cincy loss.  Twice he had opportunities to close the gap and keep PITT in that ball game and twice he failed to do so.

In the 2nd quarter PITT was trailing 14-0 but had just held Cincy to a three and out when we took the ball on the Cincy 39 after a nice 18 yard return by Saddler.  Sunseri completed a 31 yard pass that helped us overcome two penalties and get us to the   12 yard line.  He then threw a bad pass for an interception at the goal line to ruin a shot at closing the gap to 14-7.

On our next series, now down 17-0 Sunseri led a 11 play drive going 6 of 9 for 63 yards to get us to the Cincy six yard line only to have a complete freeze up and hold the ball too long and throw the ball away while the clock ran out.  This is what we fans feared prior to the season starting, the same mistakes he made so regularly in 2011.

Now, the fact is that he actually played some pretty good QB in that game save for those two plays.  He went 27 of 37 for 278 yards, a 73% rate, with a TD to go along with that INT.  That should be good enough to win most football games.

The good news is that that was the second game of the season and in the two following games he has settled down and played excellent QB in big wins against VT and Gardner-Webb.  The question then is if this solid play trend will continue in tonight’s game against Syracuse.

No one really knows what animal this PITT team is right now.  The outcome of this evening’s game will answer the questions raised above.  How dependable is our running game and how consistent can Sunseri be in his play on the field?  A win tonight, hopefully an offensively balanced win, would go a long way to making us feel that this team has shaken of the horrors of that 0-2 start and is on stable ground taking a 1-1 record into the remaining Big East schedule.

Given Tino’s struggles teams are loading the box against
the run and challenging Tino to beat them with his arm.

Comment by JR 10.05.12 @ 11:10 am

a pretty fair assessment. My biggest hope is that OL remains pretty healthy and continues to gel, which of course is most pertinent to both the running and passing success.

I would expect the opposing defense to continue to pack the line of scrimmage and force the pass, thus it is relevant that the receivers can shake loose from their coverage and Tino gets them the ball. This has worked in the last two games, one of them against a well-respected defensive coach, and needs to continue.

I would also expect a lot of blitzing which makes it very important that the OL and RBs don’t miss their blocking assignments, as we saw much of last year

Comment by wbb 10.05.12 @ 11:10 am

Has anyone noticed the change at It seems that purchased the site and butchered it. It looks absolutely horrible, so much for me visiting any longer.

Comment by Marc 10.05.12 @ 12:52 pm

Win or Lose…… Pitt will be entertaining in a macabre way……… LOL

Comment by mtoolmn 10.05.12 @ 12:56 pm

Did the line go from Pitt a 2.5 favorite to Cuse a 1.5 favorite?

Comment by alcofan 10.05.12 @ 1:09 pm

Marc – I can’t even get on it and I’m a premium member. Try 24/7 – we have some good football discussion on there without the crap between posters.

link to

Of course – The Blather should be your first stop for good football talk.

Comment by Reed 10.05.12 @ 1:25 pm

Interesting analysis, but I don’t agree with removing the long run and then comparing the results to what you perceive to be a good Yds/rush average that doesn’t remove long runs. I like to look at trends and over the first 4 games the RB Avg/rush is 4.7, 4.93, 5.28, 6.9. Tells me we are improving.

Comment by TMGPanther 10.05.12 @ 1:33 pm

In years past this is a point where Pitt fans are optimistic for the next game having come off two wins in a row.
In years past that optimism has been crushed.

Will Paul Chryst change that trend? My God I hope so.

Comment by notrocketscience 10.05.12 @ 1:37 pm

In Chryst I trust. We have a winner.

Comment by steve1 10.05.12 @ 1:56 pm

I just hope we don’t come out flat. HTP!

Comment by The Atlanta Panther 10.05.12 @ 2:18 pm

Here is my take on things if we win this game
then i think we have a good team and could go places this year.

But if we lose this game then we will be who we thought we were at the end of the first game.

in outher words if we win this game i think we go at least 9 and 3 or 8 and 4 which is great.

but if we lose this game we will be lucky to go 6 and 6 or 5 and 7 this game will tell us who we are .

Comment by FRANKCAN 10.05.12 @ 3:19 pm

panther digest scout every time i try to go on the site i frezze up cant get on any one else have that problem it never happend before.

Comment by FRANKCAN 10.05.12 @ 3:38 pm

Alcoman – line moved to Pitt +2 at 3PM today. That from an opening line of Pitt -2.5. Very scary if you are a Pitt fan. New York gamblers know there way “around the track”,

I like Pitt in a rout….say 45 -10. A lot of faith in Chryst’s teaching ability and the return of Thomas at LB.

Let’s go get em Panthers!!

Comment by Dan 72 10.05.12 @ 4:23 pm

@ alcofan. The current Vegas line is Syracuse -1.5 to -2. I don’t know if Pitt was ever the favorite but they sure are not now. Game spread probably due to home field advantage and previous strength of competition which are both in the Orange’s favor.

I’m concerned about this game. I hope that Pitt comes out swinging with both fists. My prediction is the leader at the end of the first quarter brings home the “W”.

And who would have thunk it? Tino Sunseri’s play is the strength of the offense up to this point in the season. If he plays solid again tonight, I my have to begin questioning my membership in the ABT Club.

Comment by Dr. Tom 10.05.12 @ 4:47 pm

Less than an hour to kickoff.

Pitt winning tonight will depend on the run game and controlling the clock to keep the Cuse passing game off the field.

Let’s squeeze “The Orange” to a PULP. I love orange juice!

Comment by PittofDreams 10.05.12 @ 6:40 pm

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