Todd Graham has lots of Pitt fans feeling much better about his 2011 team (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
For the first time this season, Pitt football was fun.
Now, after picking Pitt to lose their past two games, I predicted Pitt would win tonight. But, as indicated by my 24-20 pick, I didn't expect that.
Seriously, though. After all the talk we've heard about the high-octane stuff, after all of the You Tube videos us diehards watched after Todd Graham was hired - Pitt football made watching a game fun. Never mind that Pitt looked dominant - that's pretty irrelevant in the immediate aftermath. It was incredibly entertaining to watch the game tonight and while the results are, of course, primary, for the first time, it looked like Todd Graham knew what he was talking about after all. And that feeling that this version of Pitt's offense can be entertaining and effective is extremely important in the grand scheme of things because Graham needs fans to buy in.
The story of the game was obviously Ray Graham, who, thanks to Bron Bron, just might be trending on Twitter heading into the weekend. Graham somehow turned South Florida's top 25 defense into Florida International, rushing to the tune of 226 yards. I mentioned this earlier in the season, but I'd hate to see where this team would be without him. We might get a glimpse of that next season if he bolts for the NFL Draft early, but that's another issue for another time.
Graham's the reason this offense worked. He's the reason Pitt can contend in the Big East. I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid, though, mind you. I still think West Virginia is the class of the conference and that Pitt will be hard-pressed to beat them in Morgantown. But Graham's the type of player that makes you think 13-9 is again possible.
Okay, onto the obligatory Tino comments.
You don't have to be a hardcore follower of this blog to know that I've supported Sunseri for the most part. I've said it over and over, Tino's not Joe Montana. He's not even Tyler Palko. But he does, for the most part, give Pitt a chance to win football games.He did that again with probably his best performance of the year. His 22 of 33 / 216 yard performance doesn't do him justice since the team dropped several passes - most notably, Mike Shanahan who somehow flubbed a sure touchdown pass that hit him in the numbers (and then, by the way, dropped another pass that should have given Pitt a first down). He did it all without making many mistakes and was a big reason Pitt won. Hard to mention him, too, without including his scrambles. Tino was incredibly effective with his legs and while he's not the fastest guy, as I've said for a while now, he can scramble.
I wouldn't be doing Todd Graham justice if I didn't mention his defense, though. Now, let's be clear. I've been brutal to the defense and the coaches. Most notably, after the Epic Fail now known as the Iowa game. But the defense was incredible tonight. They pitched a shutout in the second half and really kept USF off balance all night. Want the biggest proof that Bulls QB B.J. Daniels is improved? Despite all the pressure he faced, he didn't throw a single pick ... that's how much Pitt had him constantly under pressure. It seemed like there was a different blitz coming at him on literally every snap and as much as I bashed Keith Patterson and crew for the defense's crappy effort against Iowa, I've got to hand it to them - they had a great game plan.
It's not that the night was perfect, though. The ugly thing were some of the fumbles and botched trick plays. Pitt definitely isn't buttoned-up yet and there's still lots of work to be done. And, oh yeah, that Rutgers game next weekend? Could be harder than you think. The easy thing to do is proclaim, as Craig James did, that Pitt could be the class of the Big East. Please. Beating South Florida at home in the first Big East game does not a conference champion make. Pitt's going to have more struggles ... plenty more ... on offense. There will be times where you wondered what happened to this team. Times you want to fire Graham for calling an idiotic time out two minutes into the game. Times ... well, you get the picture.
But for tonight, you've got to be feeling a lot more positive. You still may have reservations about this team ... I definitely do. But for one night, Todd Graham turned us into believers.