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Gorman: Time for Pitt to play Bostick

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Friday, Sept. 24, 2010

Rarely is the slower-footed, weaker-armed upperclassman who was beaten out fair and square for the starting job the antidote for an ineffective offense, but here's a suggestion to solve Pitt's problems:

Play Pat Bostick.

That might seem like a knee-jerk reaction to Tino Sunseri's struggles against Miami on Thursday night at Heinz Field, when the Panthers managed only 23 yards in going three-and-out on their first five possessions.

It's not. I promise.

Bostick has already proven that he's not the long-term answer at quarterback, but he was the starter in two of Pitt's biggest wins -- at West Virginia in 2007 and Notre Dame in '08 -- under Dave Wannstedt. But the Pitt coach made it clear afterward that pulling Sunseri was a medical decision because of his blurred vision following a big hit.

This is a short-term solution, one that could help Sunseri see the field better in the long run. Bostick replaced Sunseri with 10:47 remaining in Pitt's 31-3 loss to Miami, after Sunseri went 8 of 15 for 61 yards in three quarters. Bostick went 5 of 9 for 43 yards but threw a pair of interceptions.

"Talking to Tino on the sideline, I thought he was seeing things well but he missed a few throws that he doesn't usually miss," Bostick said. "Once I got in the game, we were spreading things out. It was easy to identify what they were doing. It was a situation where they weren't going to take too many chances because they were up two or three scores."

But Bostick gave Pitt's offense what Sunseri couldn't: a fighting chance.

A rhythm passer, once Bostick gets in a groove, he wastes no time finding open receivers, especially Jon Baldwin. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior had only one catch through the first three quarters, but Bostick went to him repeatedly and immediately energized Pitt's offense.

After getting sacked for a 9-yard loss on first down, a funny thing happened. Bostick picked himself up and completed a 7-yarder to Baldwin. Then, on third-and-12, he found Baldwin again for 13 yards and a first down. He hit Cam Saddler for a 6-yard gain, then Mike Shanahan for 9 yards and another first down. Then Bostick took a couple of shots at the end zone, both intended for Baldwin, who bobbled one at the goal line.

"JB can stretch a field as well as anybody in the country," Bostick said. "We've got to find a way to get back and get the ball up to him and create one-on-one matchups for him because we know he's going to win 'em."

The final score was no indication of how thoroughly the Hurricanes outplayed the Panthers. Pitt didn't pick up a first down until 5:02 remained in the second quarter, didn't cross midfield until Ray Graham turned a slant pass into a 33-yard gain five plays later and didn't score until Dan Hutchins kicked a 27-yard field goal with 14:27 left in the game.

You just can't spot Miami a 17-point lead.

Sunseri is far from the only one to blame, but he had trouble making his progressions in the first two games and went too quickly to his check-downs. Against Miami, he held onto the ball too long and preferred to tuck and run instead of finding open receivers. All signs of his inexperience.

If anything, the interior offensive line is Pitt's biggest problem. Tailback Dion Lewis rushed for 1,799 yards last season and entered the season as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, but he has found no room to run between the tackles. The pocket collapses just as quickly on Sunseri.

The Panthers failed to get Baldwin involved, not throwing his way until midway through the second quarter. And that play saw Baldwin fight through three defenders to midfield, only to watch Sunseri's pass sail over his head. The second time Baldwin was targeted -- on a third-and-7 from Pitt's 24 -- he was open near the home sideline. But Sunseri threw behind Baldwin's right shoulder, and it fell incomplete.

If Pitt is going to do anything offensively, Baldwin must play an important role. The Panthers aren't good enough for him to be a decoy. That's a credit to Miami -- cornerback Brandon Harris covered Baldwin like a wet blanket early -- but Baldwin is the one receiver who can stretch a defense.

And, right now, Bostick is the one quarterback who can get him the ball.

For now, that's reason enough to start him.




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