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Pitt QB Sunseri faces tougher test vs. Cincinnati

| Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, 6:02 p.m.
Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri practices on Aug. 25, 2012, on the South Side. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri looks to pass against Youngstown State during Saturday's season opener. (AP)

Thanks to a hesitant, unsure defense, quarterback Tino Sunseri wasn't the chief culprit in Pitt's opening-night loss to Youngstown State.

He threw for 239 yards — more than he recorded in all but three games last season — found wide receiver Joshua Brinson for a 35-yard touchdown and didn't throw an interception or get sacked.

But that was against a Youngstown State secondary whose cornerbacks are first-time starters.

Thursday night in the Big East opener, Sunseri must solve Cincinnati's veteran defense that returns seven players, including All-Big East first-team strong safety Drew Frey and outside linebackers Maalik Bomar and Nick Temple.

“They fly around to the football pretty well,” Sunseri said.

With the return to health of senior running back Ray Graham, who's supported by sophomore Isaac Bennett, Sunseri hopes Pitt can present a balanced attack that sets the tone.

“We have to be able to be one of those offenses that can either pass or run and dictate what the defense does,” he said. “A lot people think the defense dictates what the offense does. The offense should be able to dictate what the defense does.”

That hasn't always been the case under Sunseri, who will make his 28th consecutive start Thursday — the longest stretch at Pitt since Tyler Palko's 35 in a row from 2004-06. Pitt is 14-13 since Sunseri became the starter.

Fumbles by Graham and wide receiver Devin Street hurt Pitt's effort in the regular-season opener, but Sunseri admitted the passing game waas far from perfect.

“We felt like there were two or three passes that we should have connected on them,” he said.

Sunseri spent the past few days working on the details of the passing game.

“Just going back and working through the footwork, whether it was me or whether it was the receivers,” he said. “Just going back and making sure we are tidying all the loose ends.”

Note: Four of the six players suspended Saturday were with the team Wednesday when it departed for Cincinnati. Nose tackle Tyrone Ezell, defensive end Shayne Hale, running back Rushel Shell and wide receiver Ronald Jones will be in uniform Thursday. Freshman wide receiver Chris Davis and safety Anthony Gonzalez, both of whom were previously suspended by the university in separate incidents, weren't on the trip.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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