Respect for Sunseri never wavered
Center Ryan Turnley treated the question with polite defiance when asked if the Pitt players' respect for quarterback Tino Sunseri is starting to grow.
“It's not that it's growing,” said Turnley, a fifth-year senior. “He already has it. We've had respect for Tino since he has been (starting). We know what he is capable of.”
Sunseri, a three-year starter, didn't have an exceptional game Friday in the Carrier Dome when Pitt scored only one touchdown in a 14-13 Big East loss to Syracuse. But he showed toughness and the desire to be a leader after an 11-yard run on third down in the second quarter when he took a knee to the back from linebacker Cameron Lynch and was having trouble breathing.
“The guy made a play,” Sunseri said. “He put his knee right in the center of my back. It kind of took the breath out of me. The trainers did a good job of helping me recover.”
Sunseri was down for several minutes before suddenly jumping to his feet and sprinting off the field.
“I wanted to make sure the offense knew I was OK,” he said. “I wanted them to see my reaction.”
Sunseri returned for the next series and led Pitt on a two-minute drill that resulted in a field goal at the end of the half.
Big numbers don't count
Sunseri completed 75 percent of his passes and threw for 319 yards — his second game in a row of more than 300 — but he came up short when the game hung in the balance.
His failure to know where he was on the field led to a 15-yard intentional grounding penalty that helped move Pitt out of field-goal range. Sunseri was sacked for a 9-yard loss on the next play.
Sunseri didn't like the official's grounding call, but he didn't whine about it.
“I knew the receiver was in the vicinity (of the throw),” he said. “I thought I was on the edge of the tackle box. You have to respect the official's call and you have to be able to play on from that.”
On the sack, no one anticipated defensive back Brandon Reddish blitzing from the corner and Sunseri never turned his head to look at him.
“It's something you have to be able to recognize,” Sunseri said. “But it's my job to right the ship on that.”
A little history
Devin Street had a career-high 10 receptions, but he was not impressed.
“I think we did a good job (in the passing game), not a great job,” he said. “We didn't get the job done.”
Street, a redshirt junior, became the 18th Pitt player with 100 catches (106, tying him for 15th place with Bob Longo). Senior Mike Shanahan had four catches and moved into a tie for 10th place with Oderick Turner (122).
Running back Ray Graham had his least productive game of the season, rushing for 57 yards. But he moved past Pro Football Hall of Famer Curtis Martin and into eighth place on the all-time list with 2,648 yards.
Sunseri has thrown for 1,463 yards in five games and needs 1,579 in the next seven (or eight if Pitt goes to a bowl game) to move into third place past Tyler Palko on the school's all-time list. Sunseri has 6,765 after starting the past 31 games in a row.
Williams steps up
Cornerback K'Waun Williams left the game with a leg injury, but his second-quarter interception in the end zone was Pitt's fifth of the season.
Pitt played much of the game with five defensive backs in an attempt to counter what had been a productive Syracuse passing game. Andrew Taglianetti started as the nickel back, along with cornerbacks Lafayette Pitts and Williams, who was later replaced by Cullen Christian, and safeties Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks. Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib threw for only 185 yards and no touchdowns after amassing 482, 322, 335 and 228 and a total of 10 scores in the first four games.
Pitt committed six penalties for a loss of 35 yards, bringing the five-game total to 36 infractions for 314 yards, compared to the opponents' 24 for 202.
“We are pretty much facing two opponents,” Williams said. “We just have to stop beating ourselves.”
Todd Thomas didn't start at linebacker, but he played for the first time this season and recorded one tackle. … Defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Tyrone Ezell recorded sacks, but Syracuse defensive end Brandon Sharpe had four. … Pitt has allowed 11 sacks in its two Big East games, two in the other three.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.