Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Pitt winning on Saturday didn't surprise me much. What did impress me, though, was that they blew the Owls out of the water. Temple isn't a great team, mind you, but after pulling off wins against South Florida and UConn this year, they're clearly not the worst team in the conference.
And then there's this: Pitt rarely blows teams out. Sure, there was the monster win over Gardner-Webb this season, but they're an FCS squad. The Panthers have only beaten two FBS teams by 30 points or more in the past five years. In other words, Pitt simply doesn't do this very often.
Ray Graham had probably his best game of the season. He went over 100 yards rushing, added another 71 receiving, and had three touchdowns. If you've been following Pitt this year, you know that he hasn't been the same back he was last season. But Graham showed on Saturday that he's still capable of big games.
More importantly than any benefit that it will bring to Pitt, I'm hoping he has a few more of these games for his NFL hopes. Graham's had a bit of a tough time in college when you really think about it. He was buried a bit behind Dion Lewis, and last year when he got off to that great start, he suffered the season-ending leg injury. This year, he's still just finding his way back and hasn't been all that consistent. Graham's done a lot for Pitt and it'll be nice to see him get rewarded with a team drafting him.
Then there's Tino Sunseri. I've heaped a ton of praise on him this year, but he's just deserved it. He's playing out of his mind and clearly having his best season. I've said it before, but here it is again - last year is looking like the anomaly. His sophomore season wasn't all that bad (especially considering it was his first year as a starter) and this year he's playing unbelievable. He had another big game with more than 300 yards and three touchdowns to no interceptions. It goes without saying at this point, but if you don't think he's a big part to what Pitt is doing, then you're just not paying attention.
It wasn't all offense, though - the defense had another solid effort. They gave up only 17 points, but even seven of those were the result of a fairly cheap touchdown. The special teams allowed the big 77-yard and Temple's offense only had to go 21 yards after that for the score. The defense also came up with some huge plays in the fourth quarter. There was the big strip/fumble recovery by Lafayette Pitts (who I called a star in training camp) and then a 4th down stop with the Owls with them on Pitt's 2-yard line. That stop, by the way, was made by Dan Mason, who got the start. He responded with his second straight game recording double-digit tackles. Adding much else to the Mason recovery story is just piling on at this point, but it's really impressive.
Pitt's really been all over the map this season. There have been times when the rebuilding effort looked like it would be a massive undertaking (Youngstown State and Cincinnati), times when they've looked really mediocre (Syracuse and Buffalo), and other times where they've been wildly impressive (Virginia Tech, Gardner-Webb, Temple). This team is just an enigma right now and to declare Paul Chryst a bust or the next big thing is really premature. Pitt's going to continue to have growing pains, so don't expect smooth sailing from here on out.
Pitt really gets into a tough stretch now. Big East bottom-feeders South Florida and UConn are still left, but both games are on the road. Be honest - how surprised would you be if Pitt lost either of those games? Then there's undefeated Notre Dame and one-loss Rutgers. Pitt needs two more wins to become bowl-eligible and while things look much better with the win against Temple, a fifth straight bowl game is far from a guarantee.