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Pitt football notebook: Improved communication benefits defense

| Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012, 3:50 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt's Jason Hendricks grabs a first-quarter interception behind Virginia Tech's Bemitri Knowles on Sept. 15, 2012, at Heinz Field.

Several Pitt players admitted that their young defense had problems communicating proper calls during the first two games of the season.

The solution: Get more new faces in there and see if that helps.

It did.

Coach Paul Chryst, who hinted last week that he had few legitimate lineup alternatives, promoted two players to the starting lineup and took advantage of cornerback K'Waun Williams' return from a shoulder injury to put the clamps on then-No. 13 Virginia Tech in the Panthers' 35-17 victory at Heinz Field.

Getting free safety Jason Hendricks fully recovered after he missed much of training camp with an injury also helped.

The result: Virginia Tech's offense only scored one touchdown — an 85-yard pass-and-run from quarterback Logan Thomas to receiver Marcus Davis.

Redshirt freshman Devin Cook of Beaver Falls started at defensive end and led all Pitt linemen in tackles (five), including two for a loss. He also forced a fumble and recorded a quarterback hurry.

Cook replaced Bryan Murphy, who didn't pout but came off the bench to record a half-sack.

Manny Williams of Clairton made his first start at outside linebacker and broke up two passes to go with his four tackles.

K'Waun Williams had a team-high six tackles, and Hendricks intercepted two passes in the first half.

Hendricks said communication improved, even with different players.

“We just worked on making the right plays at the right time,” he said. “That's what we really focused on, just getting the calls communicated.”

Up the charts

Quarterback Tino Sunseri, who is averaging 266.6 passing yards per game, has moved to within 367 yards of fifth place on the school's all-time list.

The top five from top to bottom includes: Alex Van Pelt, Dan Marino, Tyler Palko, Rod Rutherford and John Congemi.

Coming into the season, Sunseri was averaging 200 passing yards per game.

Shanahan, too

Senior receiver Mike Shanahan is 13th on Pitt's all-time receptions list with 113 catches.

Shanahan has caught at least five passes in every game, while Devin Street has at least four.

… and Graham

Running back Ray Graham passed Kevin Barlow for ninth place on the all-time rushing list with 2,497 yards. He is 146 behind Pro Football Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.

Even with a sore knee, Graham had his busiest game of the season against Virginia Tech, with 24 carries for 94 yards.

Almost special

Pitt was 23 yards short of having a 300-yard passer, two 100-yard rushers and one 100-yard receiver against the Hokies. Rushel Shell rushed for 157, while Graham had 94; Sunseri threw for 283; and Shanahan had 111 yards receiving.

Gaudy production

Pitt's 537 yards of total offense (283 passing, 254 rushing) marked its best single-game production since getting 584 against Boston College in 2000.

The Panthers surpassed 520 twice last season against South Florida (523) and Connecticut (529).

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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