Inside Slant : Pittsburgh

Pitt's first-place spot in the Big East is on the line Saturday at South Florida


Pitt did a better job of stopping itself than it did of stopping Connecticut and its star running back Jordan Todman in losing, 30-28, on Nov. 11. Now the Big East has a race again for its championship.

Pitt came in eighth in the nation against the run, but in Todman, the Big East's rushing leader and one of the top rushers in the nation, they found a player who would not go down. Todman carved up Pitt by rushing for a career-high 222 yards on career-high 37 carries, including a fourth-down carry in the closing minutes that allowed the Huskies to run out the clock.

"We did not stop the run on defense, we turned the ball over on offense and we gave up two plays on special teams -- a touchdown and a fumble -- which turned into 14 points," coach Dave Wannstedt said after the game. "It was just disappointing because of how we practiced. I thought our guys showed up ready to go, but we didn't handle it well in any area. Now it is back to the drawing board."

The game proved to be more of a learning process for quarterback Tino Sunseri, who had over the previous three games showed great progress. Sunseri actually had a decent game statistically, going 20-of-28 for 220 yards and a touchdown.

The performance was marred by a pair of interceptions and a number of overthrows.

"Early on, Tino was not himself," Wannstedt said. "He missed a few throws, he had a couple of turnovers when we were driving and had field position. He had been playing so well over the past several weeks and, not only did the turnovers give points away, it was also a momentum killer.

"He came back and made some plays but our maturity in big games needs to improve."

Pitt's mistakes not only included the two interceptions and a lost fumble, but allowing a kickoff to be returned for a touchdown and a couple of shanked punts by the normally reliable Dave Hutchins.


--Jarred Holley's interception in the first quarter was his fifth of the season, which leads the Big East, and it is the eighth of his career.

--Pitt had only given up 38 points in its three previous Big East victories before UConn scored 30 on the Panthers.

GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Jon Baldwin -- He is counted on to make big plays and he did just that in defeat. Baldwin led Pitt with six receptions, just failing to reach 100 yards as he finished with 95. Baldwin caught a 42-yard pass to set up one touchdown and scored another, that being on a nifty catch at the back of the end zone that was first ruled incomplete before replay showed he had been able to drag one foot in bounds. Baldwin now has 20 career catches of 40 or more yards.

KEEP AN EYE ON: DE Greg Romeus -- Romeus returned to the starting lineup after back surgery caused him to miss every game since the opener. Romeus played most of the plays in the first half and alternated with DE Brandon Lindsey in the second half. If he can return to the form he had last year when he was the Big East's co-Defensive Player of the Year, it should give Pitt a huge boost down the stretch, maybe even allowing them to play three pass rushers with Romeus, Jabaal Sheard and Lindsey in passing situations.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's very disappointing. Every time in the meeting room we preach Big East and Big East championship. We didn't come out here to lose." -- RB Ray Graham, after losing to Connecticut.


LOOKING GOOD: The Pitt running game seems now to be clicking as it should, which is something Coach Dave Wannstedt wants to rely on. RB Dion Lewis, who gained 1,777 yards last year as a true freshman, got off to a slow start this year but led Pitt with 77 yards on 13 carries, two of which went for touchdowns. At the same time RB Ray Graham, who had picked up the slack while Lewis was getting his game together, continued his solid running with 75 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown, giving Pitt three rushing scores.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Pitt had not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season and was ranked eighth nationally against the run until UConn's Jordan Todman, the conference's leading runner, needed only two quarters to reach the century mark. He finished with career-high 222 yards on a career-high 37 carries. That was not the only problem. P Dave Hutchins shanked two punts after being among the nation's leaders in punting. He finished with a 38.3 yard punting average. QB Tino Sunseri tossed in a couple of interceptions and missed a couple of other connections overthrowing early. He did finish 20 of 28 passing for 220 yards, impressive numbers. Three turnovers did not help the Pitt cause.

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