ShareThis Page

Host Pitt escapes Maine with a shaky victory

| Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011

If Pitt's 35-29 victory Saturday over Maine felt more like a loss, there are many good reasons for that.

The gruesome details that unfolded at Heinz Field in front of an announced crowd of 41,230 began with quarterback Tino Sunseri's two interceptions, and it spiraled downward from there.


» The offensive line's inability to handle Maine's cleverly disguised pass rush that resulted in seven sacks.

» The defense's failure to get any turnovers after coach Todd Graham shouted like a preacher about their importance.

» The missed field goal, extra point and continued struggles of kicker Kevin Harper, which has been another point of emphasis by Graham.

And when Graham criticized the pass defense that now has allowed 610 yards and three touchdowns to Buffalo of the MAC and Maine of the FCS, fans can justifiably wonder where this season is headed.

Pitt surrendered 334 yards passing yesterday.

"We are giving up stupid plays in the passing game," Graham said of his defense that returned eight starters from last year. "It's just ridiculous."

Pitt is admittedly trying to muddle through the early weeks of the season while learning offensive and defensive systems that are foreign to every player, but senior inside linebacker Max Gruder doesn't want to take the easy way out of this jam.

"I am not going to sit here and make excuses about a new system," he said. "It's new assignments. It's new alignments, but you still have to tackle. Football is football.

"It is not acceptable. We can't let that happen again."

No doubt, with a trip to Iowa scheduled for next Saturday, Pitt (2-0) must get better in a hurry or suffer consequences that do not fit its expectations.

"We are a Big East championship team," Gruder said, "and we are playing very average."

Or, as Graham explained it, "We played down to the level of competition. Very lackluster."

For the second game in a row, Pitt underwhelmed its followers, stumbling to a 20-7 halftime lead. This time, however, the situation got worse instead of better in the second half.

Maine (1-1) trimmed the lead to 20-15 with 6:13 left in the first half. That's when running back Ray Graham put the team back on his shoulders and scored his third touchdown of the game and sixth of the season. Overall, Graham totaled 28 carries for 121 yards, a week after getting 29 and 201 against Buffalo.

Pitt led, 28-15, when Sunseri threw his second interception early in the fourth quarter. After getting the ball back, Graham decided to experiment — like he had promised earlier in the week — with freshman Trey Anderson.

The immediate result was an 11-play, 52-yard scoring drive, with backup running back Zach Brown scoring from the 1-yard line. Later, Graham said the job remains in Sunseri's possession, even though he inserted Anderson with 12:33 left in the game and Pitt ahead by only 13 points.

"Tino is our quarterback and will be next week," Graham said. "I still have 100 percent belief in him, but I didn't want to come out of this week and play an opponent we should go out and dominate and not get another quarterback any reps."

Yet, he also said, "We have to execute better at that position. Does (Sunseri) need to improve• Obviously, he needs to improve. So do a lot of people."

That includes a defense that allowed two touchdowns in the final 3:12.

"We went into halftime and (Maine) had scored seven points," Graham said. "That's all they should have scored."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using 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.