Sunseri: Pitt offense not crisp enough
Quarterback Tino Sunseri, who singled out kicker Kevin Harper after Pitt lost to Notre Dame, offered a critique of everyone after the latest defeat.
In the 24-17 loss to Connecticut on Friday, the offense didn't score a touchdown until the fourth quarter, which the Panthers entered trailing by 21 points. Sunseri was sacked three times, making it 28 for the season, and he managed to throw for 302 yards — his fourth-best total of the season.
But he completed less than half of his passes (10 for 22 for 161 yards) in the first three quarters before Connecticut loosened its coverage in the fourth. Sunseri hit 9 of 12 for 141 yards in the final 15 minutes, leading a rally that fell short.
“We have to be crisper in our protection,” he said. “We have to be crisper in our routes. We have to be crisper throwing the ball down the field as an offensive unit.
“Protection is not just the offensive line. It's running backs, receivers, everybody working together as one. We have to be able to make sure we are working as one, to be able to make sure we are getting the ball out on time and getting it into our playmakers' hands.”
Wide receivers Devin Street and Mike Shanahan continue to make plays, but opponents are starting to throw double-teams around them, robbing the passing game of consistent productivity.
“(Street) and Shanahan are definitely getting a lot of attention the last couple weeks,” Sunseri said. “Every defense we have played so far has definitely been eyeing those guys up, trying to bracket them as much as they can, playing a little bit of man (with) guys over the top and playing two on one.”
Some good, some bad
Shanahan, who became only the ninth pass catcher in school history with at least 2,000 receiving yards (2,041), scored a touchdown in the final three minutes of the game. But it was his first against an FBS team since the third game of the season (Virginia Tech).
Street has been remarkably consistent, with 403 yards each in the first five and past five games. But he has been kept out of the end zone in three of the past four games.
Carswell surprised UConn
Tight end Drew Carswell became one of Sunseri's favorite targets after senior Hubie Graham went out with an undisclosed injury on the first offensive play of the game.
Carswell caught four passes for 18 yards each before an 11-yard reception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He finished with five for 83.
“Drew is athletic, he's big, he's fast, he can run down the field and make plays,” Sunseri said. “Drew is one of those guys they weren't giving as much focus, but plays were there for him. He stepped up to the plate.”
Safety Jason Hendricks suffered an undisclosed injury late in the first half and did not return. He jogged off the field after getting attention from medical personnel and was replaced by Ray Vinopal. Coach Paul Chryst said Hendricks tried to return, but he was unable.
“I'm not going to say that was a big difference because Ray did some good things,” Chryst said.
Middle linebacker Shane Gordon played most of the second half, returning from a high-ankle sprain that cost him four starts.
Former quarterback Anthony Gonzalez, who moved from safety to strong-side linebacker to ease a manpower shortage, had one of Pitt's two sacks. ... Safety Jarred Holley intercepted a pass in the end zone, his second of the season. ... Freshman running back Rushel Shell, who had 42 total carries against Louisville, Buffalo and Temple, has only seven in the past two games. ... Ray Graham carried 15 times for 41 yards against UConn.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.