Pitt came out and did everything it needed to in a 35-20 rout of UConn. Unfortunately, the big story isn't going to be the score.
Early in the game, Ray Graham went down due to a leg injury. Things went from bad to worse as he was carted off, and then from worse to potentially catastrophic as he came back ... on crutches. There's no way to sugarcoat this and while the team needed the win, this hurts. I've theorized where this offense might be without Graham in the past, and it looks like we might find out soon.
If you're looking for a positive to take away from the injury, Graham appeared upbeat on the sidelines after his return, often seen smiling. That could be anything, but I'll choose to think it means he could come back this year. In his absence, the running was, as expected, down. Zach Brown came in and ran for only 24 yards on ten carries, but his biggest contribution came on catching ball after ball out of the backfield. He ended up with nine catches for 84 yards and was exactly what Pitt needed in the wake of the Graham injury.
Surprisingly, Pitt's had several games this season overshadowed for one reason or another. This game will be clouded by the Graham injury. Homecoming weekend took a back seat to the Rushel Shell commitment and the Iowa collapse was overshadowed by the move to the ACC.
But we've got to take a look at the game, so let's do that.
Tino Sunseri once again proved he's the team's best fit at quarterback. There's no real sense in pointing out how up and down he's been - we all know about that. But his performance tonight along with that in the South Florida game proved what this offense can be when things are clicking. We haven't seen too much of that this season, but it's clear to see that this offense can be downright fun to watch.
Sunseri, in particular, had his best game of his career. He threw for more than 400 yards and tied for fourth place on the all-time passing list at Pitt, while adding two touchdowns. It's games like these that show Sunseri isn't the incompetent QB he's made out to be. He hasn't had a great year, but he's a serviceable quarterback most of the time and is Pitt's best option. Sure, the sack before the half was incredulous, but no QB is going to play a perfect game.
The added dimension in Tino's game is when he's able to successfully scramble. I can't tell you how many times he faked defenders out with faking a pass before taking off with the ball. Todd Graham's offense is going to require a mobile quarterback and when Tino's able to run as he did tonight, it just makes the offense significantly better. And for him to play as well as he did without the team's best player was pretty amazing.
Looking at UConn, their offensive line was as bad as advertised. Pitt constantly got pressure on the UConn quarterbacks and had seven sacks on the night. The D wasn't able to force any turnovers, but with the offense clicking so well, it didn't really matter. That's the thing about Graham's offense - if it works, Pitt should be in every game because they should be able to score with anybody. And if the defense can force some turnovers, then the chance of winning should increase even more.
The Huskies' offense did look good at times, though. They had a 100-yard rusher and receiver and Johnny McEntee, despite all the pressure, wasn't harassed into any picks (though there was one that should have been intercepted). But Pitt's defense came up big on third down nearly every time. UConn was only 3-14 on third down and simply couldn't sustain drives.
Here's the thing - this season has been filled with ups and downs. The fact is that we're mostly far too impatient to want to suffer through the low times. But Walt Harris needed time before he got the team to a BCS game. Dave Wannstedt needed time before he led Pitt to a ten-win season. Graham's got to get his fair share of time and we've all got to remember it's going to take longer than we want.
As bad as things have looked the past two games, Pitt is right in the thick of things for the Big East title. Frankly, I think it's still a long shot, but the fact is that the team is one Rutgers loss away from controlling their own destiny. Lots of season still left and while Cincinnati will come into town next weekend, to me, they're beatable. That's looking like a huge game in terms of the Big East and by winning tonight, Pitt's given itself a shot at the Big East title.
But for now, let's enjoy this one.