Going into this weekend's match-up with third ranked Notre Dame, 4-4 Pitt had nothing to lose. If they won it would be a massive upset and a signature win for Paul Chryst in front of a national audience. If they got blown out it would be no big deal because, well, that's what everyone expected. Most seemed content just hoping for a competitive game. I repeat, our Panthers had nothing to lose. I made the trip out to South Bend with this in mind.
And so, even with such a disappointing loss, I would argue Pitt came out ahead in certain ways. Obviously none of us wanted to see the game slip away, but the fact that our enigmatic 4-4 Panthers went punch-for-punch with the #3 team in the country and fought them through three scintillating overtimes before finally falling says something. It speaks to the character and resilience of this team. It speaks to the fine job Chryst and the coaching staff did preparing. It speaks to the talent of this roster. It speaks to a lot of things, all positive, and because of that, the Panthers' stock remains relatively high.
Bull (upward trending): Ray Graham
Graham had a monster game, rushing for 172 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. He also had six receptions for 25 yards. Any doubts about whether he would ever regain his stellar form from last year were erased. With his big game, Graham continues to move closer to cementing himself in the Pitt record books. Points out the Trib's Jerry DiPaola:
What Graham’s effort proved is that his knee injury from a year ago is no longer a factor. He carried 24 times, tying a season high he set twice previously. Freshman Rushel Shell had only one carry for 2 yards.
“I felt like I was improving three weeks ago,” Graham said.
Graham has rushed for 355 yards in the past three games to move into fourth place on Pitt’s all-time rushing list with 3,023. He needs 64 yards to pass Craig Heyward for third.
Funny enough, at the beginning of the game, the Notre Dame fan sitting next to me asked if Pitt had any pro prospects on the roster. I mentioned Graham, but noted his relatively quiet year coming back from the torn ACL. Little did I know the tenacious Graham was about to run all over the Irish's top-ranked defense. Good for him. I have no doubt that game will make a nice NFL draft highlight tape.
Bear (downward trending): Tino Sunseri
Sunseri went into this game flying high after a career-best game against Temple. All year he seemed to be improving, and morphing into the mature, confident game manager he was recruited to be. Tino didn't have a bad game, per se, on Saturday, going 19 of 29 for 164 yards and a touchdown, but the mental progress he seemed to be making all season crashed and burned at the end of the 4th quarter. He was sacked three times, couldn't make a play in overtime, and then blamed Kevin Harper's missed field goal as the reason Pitt lost the game. As Chas over at Pitt Blather so accurately points out :
This is the kid that has been the receptacle of blame for every Pitt loss in the last two-plus years. Some rightfully, some unfairly. He had a coach all of last year put all the blame on him. His teammates, though, have publicly had his back the entire time.
And he can’t do the same for his own teammates?
This is just more evidence that even three years later that nothing has changed between the ears.
For all the improvements this year. For being so, so much better and more consistent than he was the first two years. For finally appearing to get it. At that moment to reveal character. To fail to at least show comprehension of the moment. Tino Sunseri reverted back to type.
I've been a vocal supporter of Tino this season, but he has yet to prove he can win a game under pressure. Plain and simple. His stock is falling.