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Pitt coach Graham is keeping expectations high

Not troubled by the ups and downs of a challenging season, Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri probably isn't looking for enthusiastic validation from coach Todd Graham. And Graham isn't going out of his way to offer it.

Sunseri, a redshirt junior, was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week on Monday for the first time in his career after throwing for a career-high 419 yards in a 35-20 victory against Connecticut last Wednesday. The performance is the fourth-most passing yardage in Pitt history and the best by a collegiate quarterback at 10-year-old Heinz Field. Sunseri did not throw an interception while helping the offense record 529 yards of offense -- the most at Pitt since 2000.

Graham's take: "I told Tino this," Graham said yesterday during his weekly news conference. "We played average. We can play a lot better than that."

Almost from the day he assumed control of a program that clearly needed direction after the ouster of two coaches in less than a month, Graham has set a high standard. Much of that thinking stems from his Tulsa teams that led the nation in offense in 2007 and 2008 and scored 661 points in '08, the second-most in NCAA history.

"I thought we would throw for 500," Graham said after the Connecticut game. "I really did. That's what I'm used to."

Graham did give Sunseri credit.

"I thought we were a lot better in rhythm," he said. "We did some things to simplify things that helped, and we executed better. We were on task on what we were doing, and our eyes were where they were supposed to be.

"But that was not a great performance — just an average to good performance. The thing that was great about it was not turning the football over. If we had not taken three sacks, then it would have been a good performance. That's just how we measure things. It doesn't matter if it's this year or last year. If you went and got one of our sound bites from last year, I would be saying the same exact things."

With Pitt (4-4, 2-1) four victories from winning the Big East and earning a BCS bowl berth, Graham believes his offense can succeed if it avoids turnovers and negative-yardage plays. The Connecticut victory was the offense's second turnover-free performance of the season.

"If we do those things, we are going to score points," he said. "Offensively, we made some good adjustments and got some good things done."

Graham isn't just challenging his quarterback. He also hasn't been satisfied with a defense that ranks 23rd in the nation on third down (85 stops on 129 plays) and 46th in yards allowed (363.8 per game).

"I think our guys are close," Graham said. "We are not playing championship-caliber defense. We are playing good. We can play great, and that excites me."

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