Pittsburgh Skill Position StartersThe Panthers have struggled early in 2010, averaging just 353 yards per contest (77th nationally). The rushing offense continues to serve as a team strength, grinding out 169 yards per game while accounting for eight of the team's 12 touchdowns.
Quarterback #12 Tino Sunseri– The 6'2" 210-pound first-year starter replaced veteran Bill Stull (15-27, 236 yards, TD vs. ND in '09), beating out Pat Bostick (below). Sunseri has completed exactly 63% of his passes through four games though hit for just 250 combined yards with one touchdown and one interception in losses to Utah and Miami. Sunseri connected on 13 of final 14 tosses in an uninspiring comeback win over Florida International last weekend.
Though Sunseri, a redshirt-sophomore, is far ahead of last week's pair of first-time signal callers, he's nowhere near the caliber of player the Irish faced at quarterback over the season's first four weeks.
Running Back #28 Dion Lewis – Set a Panthers program record with 1,799 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Lewis has not yet topped the 100-yard rushing mark this year after posting 10 such outings as a true freshman last season. He erupted for 150 yards and a 50-yard touchdown vs. the Irish in last year's matchup. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who faced Lewis last season in the same position at Cincinnati, noted Lewis possesses "uncommon contact balance" an apt description of the compact, shifty, yet hard-nosed runner. Undersized at 5'8" but a solid 195 pounds, Lewis missed last week's matchup with FIU due to a shoulder injury but is expected to start Saturday.
Lewis will either breakout in the season's final eight contests or rank as the biggest statistical disappointment of the 2010 college football season – there's little middle ground after his sterling 2009 debut.
Fullback #27 Henry Hynoski – Called "the guy that makes it work" by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, Hynoski lines up as the Panthers move tight end and lead fullback for the power-oriented offense. At 6'2" 260, Hynoski delivered a blow in pass protection last season that popped the helmet off Irish defensive end Ethan Johnson but was also stopped dead in his tracks on a key third quarter 3rd and 1 rush by a penetrating Ian Williams. Has just seven rushes this season though he did catch a touchdown pass vs. FIU and had two grabs for 21 yards at (current) No. 10 Utah.
Wide Receiver #82 Jon Baldwin – The sometimes unstoppable, sometimes apathetic junior has been relatively quiet this season, totaling just 15 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns, just one score vs. FBS competition. A true Jekyll & Hyde performer, the Irish are unlikely to encounter an indifferent Baldwin Saturday afternoon as the 6'5" 230-pound target has burned the Irish for two touchdowns and seven receptions totaling more than 160 yards over two career contests – each of Baldwin's seven grabs greatly damaged the Irish defensive effort including a game-tying jump ball to send the 2008 contest into the first of four overtimes.
Baldwin has produced nine games in excess of 100 yards including while compiling 1,111 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2009. Five of Baldwin's 14 career touchdowns have exceeded 50 yards (receiving or rushing).
Wide Receiver #87 Mike Shanahan – The team's second leading receiver with 14 catches for 190 yards, the 6'5" 220-pound Shanahan poses a possible mismatch problem vs. a trio of 6'0" Irish cornerbacks. Came down with a clutch catch on the regulation game-tying drive in the team's 27-24 overtime loss at Utah, snaring a Sunseri offering for an 19-yard gain to set up the Panthers at the Utes 14-yard line with 40 seconds remaining. Caught a career-high four passes for 82 yards in the comeback win over FIU.
Tight End #85 Mike Cruz – Opened the season with three catches for 31 yards vs. Utah but has just one reception since. The 6'5" 255-pound redshirt-sophomore scored a TD in a third-string role vs. South Florida last season.
Key ReservesA reserve in designation only, Lewis' classmate Ray Graham ranks as one of the best pure runners in the college game.
Running Back #1 Ray Graham – Graham posted the best run of the season vs. the Irish defense last season, a 51-yard adventure around the left side in which he eluded or broke six tackles before being stopped at the 2-yard line (scoring one play later). More relevant, the true sophomore currently leads the nation with 236.33 all-purpose yards and ranks as its third leading rusher at 164 per contest.
Graham has averaged an astounding 9.5 yards per carry on 52 rushes this season, scoring five touchdowns. The 5'9" 195-pound Graham sat out the season-opener with a leg injury; his best effort vs. quality competition this season was a 14-carry, 100-yard effort vs. Miami in a Game Three relief effort for the struggling and injured Dion Lewis.
Wide Receiver #5 Cameron Saddler – The diminutive sophomore (5'7" 170) has totaled seven receptions and a touchdown, though Saddler was shut-out in his last outing and had just one grab vs. Miami. Doubles as the Panthers kick and punt returner with a 37-yard punt return vs. the Hurricanes and a 47-yard kick return (last season) vs. NC State. Saddler was limited to 123 yards on six kick returns vs. Brian Kelly's Cincinnati Bearcats last season.
Split End #15 Devin Street – Promising first-year receiver has six receptions for 71 yards on the season including a career-best 3-catch/30-yard effort last week vs. FIU. The 6'4" 190-pound leaper could develop into a red zone compliment for Baldwin, one of the nation's best with the ball in the air.
QB # 10 Pat Bostick – Tossed three interceptions – and the game-tying touchdown – to emerge as the winning quarterback vs. Jimmy Clausen in the 2008 matchup between the teams in South Bend. The 6'3" 235-pound Bostick took a redshirt-season last in 2009; he's completed 6 of 10 passes (two picks) in a backup role upon his return, giving him 9 TD vs. 17 interceptions interspersed over 14 starts and 18 apperances.
Running Back #29 Chris Burns – 5'11" 200-pound redshirt sophomore scored the first touchdown of his collegiate career last week vs. FIU. Burns serves as the team's third back and could see action if Dion Lewis remains sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Pittsburgh Offensive LineForced to replace three starters from last year's unit, the Panthers have struggled with consistency up front, a hallmark of last year's bruising two-back attack.
Left Tackle #77 Jason Pinkston – 5th-year senior boasts 32 career starts and is a three-year veteran of the position. Named first-team All Big East last season and second team All-America by Sports Illustrated.
Left Guard #54 Chris Jacobson – A full-time starter for the first time, the redshirt-junior has started five straight dating back to last season's Meineke Car Car Bowl win over North Carolina, a game in which Dion Lewis rushed for 159 yards vs. one of the nation's top rush defenses.
Center #61 Alex Karabin – 6'1" 290-pound walk-on earned a scholarship in August and has started each of the Panthers four contests this season. Played in 13 games last season on Pittsburgh special teams and as a reserve center. Despite renowned work ethic and tenacity, the first-year starter will have his hands full Saturday vs. senior nose guard Ian Williams.
Right Guard #52 Lucas Nix – Started the first three games of the season at right tackle before moving inside for Game Four vs. FIU. The 6'6" 305-pound redshirt-junior started 13 games at right tackle last season and has 17 starts to his credit as a Panther.
Right Tackle #68 Jordan Gibbs – Lettered last season as a member of the Pittsburgh special teams but earned his first career start last week vs. FIU.