Starkey: Defiant Sunseri leads Pitt
TribLIVE Sports Videos
The most heavily criticized athlete in Pittsburgh sports walked into the postgame interview room on crutches and at times looked like he wanted to swing one of them at his questioners.
Defiant would be too light a word to describe quarterback Tino Sunseri's demeanor after Pitt's stunning 35-17 victory over No. 13 Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Asked to describe his feelings regarding perhaps the most impressive victory of his career, Sunseri snapped, “I'm just ready to get out of here and go watch my dad (Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri) play.”
Asked how he deals with the constant and largely unflattering public scrutiny, he said, “I don't know. I just do my job.”
He cut off a follow-up question, flashed his steely brown eyes and bit off the same five words: “I just do my job.”
What kind of injury did he sustain?
What happened on the play on which he was injured?
And so it went.
Really, though, who could blame Sunseri if he has a giant chip on his shoulder pads? He has endured a ridiculous amount of criticism. The mere mention of his name seems to get people's blood boiling.
A popular topic going into the game was whether it might be Sunseri's last as starter. It figured that if coach Paul Chryst was going to make a change, especially if he intended to use freshman Chad Voytik, then next Saturday's game against Gardner-Webb would have been the logical time.
Well, forget that.
Sunseri cracked his critics with a figurative crutch to the face, completing 19 of 28 attempts for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He thoroughly outshone his celebrated counterpart, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas.
Even the Hokies were surprised with Sunseri's newfound accuracy on deep throws. The first of those came on a telling opening series, when he absorbed a huge hit on third-and-7 and completed a 33-yard pass to a leaping Devin Street.
That was followed a few series later by an on-the-fingertips 40-yard completion to Mike Shanahan down the left sideline.
Virginia Tech safety Kyshoen Jarrett answered frankly when a reporter wondered if the Hokies believed Sunseri could make plays like that down the field.
“Honestly? No,” Jarrett said.
Sunseri's numbers conveyed only part of the story. Teammates said he inspired them with his toughness. He was body slammed on one play and later sustained a leg injury on one of his few errant passes — an early fourth-quarter interception.
He didn't miss a snap, limping through the rest of the game.
“Really, that's what he is: a tough player,” Shanahan said. “Whenever we see him do that, having all that faith and will, that gets us going.”
Chryst downplayed the public criticism of Sunseri, to the point where you'd think the coach didn't know it existed. His take on Sunseri's performance was a lot more believable: “He's good enough if he just plays within himself.”
Sunseri's teammates admire the way he deals with the abuse.
“I don't think that's deserved for him or anybody, really,” Shanahan said. “It kind of makes me upset to hear it. He does a great job with it. I've never seen it affect him in a way where we notice in practice or a game.”
This was Pitt's most surprising victory since the legendary 13-9 win five years ago at West Virginia. Not just because of the final score but because of the sheer dominance the Panthers displayed in rolling up 537 yards to Virginia Tech's 324.
Suddenly, a season that appeared to be careening toward 2-10 has promise.
Suddenly, an embattled quarterback who appeared to be losing his grip on the job has new life — and a giant chip on his shoulder.
That's not a bad thing.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Slumping Pitt keeps chin up
- Pitt’s 2015 schedule includes 5 road games in 1st 7 games
- Dixon vows to fix Pitt’s long-distance dilemma
- Pine-Richland’s DiNucci to Pitt; Kittanning’s Bowers opts for PSU
- Gorman: Not just a no-brainer for Pine-Richland’s DiNucci
- Pitt, Louisville square off after unusually long layoffs
- Pitt notebook: Pitino: This year’s Pitt team not as talented as past years
- Pitt coach Narduzzi adds N.J. linebacker recruit
- Pitt adds Texas wide receiver as 16th commitment to Class of 2015
- Panthers drop heartbreaker in overtime to Virginia Tech
- Pitt women’s basketball team upends Boston College