Pitt head coach Todd Graham addressed two different types of media on Monday. In his Big East teleconference and in his weekly meeting with the Pittsburgh media, Graham reiterated that he's happy to be 2-0, and that Tino Sunseri will start at quarterback on Saturday at Iowa.
With Graham and Pitt promoting this high-octane offense, in two games, the offense has scored 35 points in both of its first two games. That should sound like a good number, but there's two areas that have raised a lot of concern. Sunseri is seventh among Big East quarterbacks in pass efficiency, but he's completing 58.7 percent of his passes with just one touchdown pass and two interceptions—both against Maine this past Saturday.
Graham added that while he's not completely pleased with the passing game, he has faith in Sunseri turning things around.
"Tino's our quarterback," Graham said. "We've got all the confidence in the world in Tino, but he's got to play better and we've got to get it done."
The other concern offensively that really showed up on Saturday, is the offensive line play. This is maybe the bigger surprise because of the experience up front with three senior starters, and the praise that Graham has given the line going back to spring. What was more shocking—is that with all that praise, going back to March—Graham feels the line's improvement will be based on going back to basics.
"We've been making mental mistakes, and breakdowns," Graham said. "Once we eliminate those, we'll be fine; and throw the ball on timing—we're not used to that. We just have to improve. The key to our development is going to be up front, offensive linemen getting better fundamentally and just our quarterback settling in and running the offense. We do that, we're going to score points."
The offensive line has given up nine sacks this season, including six of which Graham has said have come from "max protection." He said after the Maine game that Sunseri has been holding on to the ball a little big longer—part of the difficulty in making the transition from the pro-style set to the new no-huddle set. He did defend the offensive line, in that regard.
"I think it's a combination of a couple things; we have a couple new guys playing (on the offensive line), we've had mental errors there, we're holding the ball too long," Graham said. "We've been sacked six times in max protection. In four years (at Tulsa) we've been sacked six times in max protection. Sometimes, you forget in your first year as a coach, we've got to make sure we're mastering the things, executing."
He also said despite the sluggish start by the offensive line, there are no personnel changes at this time. He continues to have faith in the group—particularly in his three seniors.
"I think (Chris) Jacobson has played two solid games," Graham said. "(Jordan) Gibbs has only played one game, because the first game he hyperventilated; had an asthma (attack). He played a good game this last game; not a great game. (Lucas) Nix has been steady."
There was one slight personnel change made defensively this past week, as Brandon Lindsey moved from Panther back to defensive end, where he's playing up at the line. Freshman Ejuan Price made his first career start, starting at the Panther position. Lindsey has recorded a sack in both games. When Monday's depth chart came out, that lineup will remain intact. Graham feels confident that he can move Lindsey around at both defensive end, and at the Panther position.
"That was by design, we've put (Lindsey) at field end and to the boundary," Graham said. "He played his best game last week. He's very impressive against the run, impacted the quarterback. He's done a great job for us; a guy that's a really solid football player."
What Graham would like to see from his defense is more turnover production—one of his biggest philosophies. So far, the Pitt offense has turned the ball over three times, while producing just one turnover of its own—an interception by defensive lineman Chas Alecxih. A quick look at the number s shows for even greater question as to where the defense has been.
In just two games, against Buffalo and Maine, the defense has given up an average of 387 yards a game, which ranks next to last in the conference. While Pitt had a better game in terms of time of possession, they still ran 90 plays to Maine's 71. Still, they only outscored Maine by six, but also reaching one of their defensive goals with eight tackles for losses. This, following a Buffalo game where the defense was driven to exhaustion, being kept on the field for a total of 93 plays and giving up only 16 points.