Consistent offense leads Panthers into USF with shot at bowl
Two years ago, Pitt officials were focused on jazzing up their football program after six seasons of the conservative, play-not-to-lose style of coach Dave Wannstedt.
Enter Todd Graham, with his speed-based offense and enough brass to think it actually would work at Pitt. It didn't, and Pitt ended the 2011 season ranked 77th in passing and 88th in total offense among 120 FBS schools. Graham ended up at Arizona State.
Who knew that Paul Chryst, the understated Wisconsin offensive coordinator who was a candidate in the search that yielded Graham, would be the coach to fix things?
With the final game of the regular season Saturday at South Florida, Pitt (5-6, 2-4 Big East) is not winning with any more regularity than it did last year, but the offense is more productive, less mistake-prone and more protective of the quarterback.
Pitt has the nation's 40th-ranked passing game (an average of 267.7 ypg) while sitting 60th in total offense (407.1). Sacks fell from 63 to 30 with more defined blocking schemes under first-year line coach Jim Hueber.
In two fewer games, quarterback Tino Sunseri has thrown for 2,892 yards and 18 touchdowns — 276 more yards and eight more scores than last year. His completion percentage improved from 64.2 to 65.8. After averaging nearly an interception per game last year, Sunseri has thrown two this season and none in the past 8 1⁄4 games.
Much of the success can be attributed to the additional year of experience for Sunseri and his three top wide receivers — Devin Street, Mike Shanahan and Cam Saddler. But freshman tight end J.P. Holtz leads the team in yards per catch (16.9).
Shanahan's touchdown against Rutgers was a good example of how pass catchers are getting open more often this season.
“It was just a double move,” he said. “All season, we have been showing that formation and I have been running just a slant (to the inside). I gave it a slant and go (to the outside), and the cornerback bit pretty hard on the inside.”
The result of the newly conceived route was Shanahan getting wide open in the end zone for Pitt's first touchdown in a 27-6 victory.
“A lot of the credit has to be given to the coaches,” he said. “They are great offensive minds and Tino's been doing a great job of getting us the ball.”
Shanahan, a fifth-year senior, said he hopes to prolong his football career into the NFL, and he has the frame (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) and statistics (49 receptions, 810 yards, five TDs) that will attract scouts. He also has improved over the past year after recording only 39 catches for 493 yards and four scores in 2011.
Shanahan said he has benefited from the experience of wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, a former Penn State star who played 14 seasons in the NFL.
“He is the kind of coach you don't want to disappoint,” Shanahan said. “He tells you what to do and it's on you to go out and execute.”
Note: Pitt is four short of the 85-man scholarship limit after losing two transfers and suspending defensive back Steve Williams on Monday. With 16 seniors leaving the program, Pitt can add 20 recruits in the Class of 2013, if the roster remains intact until February. So far, 19 high school seniors have verbally committed.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.
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.
- Pitt sophomore Coles leaves football team
- Pitt, Penn State face competition for ticket sales
- Pitt notebook: No surprises as Panthers settle on starting O-line
- Pitt football coach Chryst shaking up his team’s depth chart
- Pitt assistant strength coach’s battle with cancer inspires players
- Pitt has no shortage of talented running backs heading into season
- Pitt notebook: Chryst ready to ‘tighten things down’ for season