Pitt beats UConn, but not without cost
Pitt played without its most important moving part Wednesday night in a 35-20 victory over Connecticut. Running back Ray Graham left in pain after hurting his right knee on the game's fourth play.
Surprisingly, it didn't affect the outcome — only how Pitt got there.
Embattled quarterback Tino Sunseri emerged as the offensive catalyst, throwing for a career-high 419 yards — the most by a college quarterback at Heinz Field. Sunseri also tied Rod Rutherford (2003 against West Virginia) for the fourth-most single-game passing yards in Pitt history.
Coach Todd Graham offered little information about Ray Graham's injury, but he said he was proud of how his players responded to adversity.
"Ray going down was a big blow for us, and I don't know anything other than he couldn't come back the rest of the game," he said. "We will wait and see. Just hoping and praying he will be OK.
"He was in good spirits (while watching most of the game while leaning on crutches on the sideline). We will know more in the days to come."
Coach Graham was pleased with the record-setting effort in the passing game, but not especially impressed.
"I thought we would throw for 500," he said. "I really did. That is what I am used to. I am surprised that is a record.
"Our rhythm was there. I am very proud of (Sunseri). We executed well in the passing game and threw the ball well."
Said UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni: "To their credit, they hit some crossing routes and they caught us in (man-to-man defense) once or twice."
The end result was Pitt (4-4, 2-1) snapping a two-game losing streak and rolling back into the Big East title race before an announced crowd of 40,219. Connecticut, the defending conference champion, dropped to 3-5, 1-2.
Sunseri completed 29 of 42 passes and threw two touchdown passes — both to wide receiver Mike Shanahan, who had not scored since the season opener. Sunseri also was Pitt's leading ground gainer, with 12 carries for 40 yards.
The game started ominously when Graham, who ran 18 yards on his first carry, tried to plant his right leg on his second attempt. The leg gave out after a 1-yard gain, and Graham fell to the ground.
Even without Graham, who came into the game leading the Big East in rushing with 939 yards, Pitt looked like the advertised product for just the second time in eight games.
Pitt scored five touchdowns, all on drives that lasted less than three minutes.
Pitt took a 7-0 lead on its first offensive series when Sunseri carried three times for 44 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown run with 10 minutes left in the first quarter.
Pitt's offense struggled in its next two possessions before taking a 14-0 lead before the end of the quarter. Sunseri found Shanahan open in the middle of the secondary for a 17-yard touchdown at the end of a seven-play, 62-yard drive.
Just before the end of the first half, completions of 21 yards to Devin Street and 40 to Cam Saddler led to running back Zach Brown's 3-yard touchdown run and Pitt's 21-3 halftime lead.
Brown played in place of Graham, rushing 12 times for 30 yards and leading Pitt with nine receptions for 84 yards.