Pitt Offense, Iowa Defense On The Mend

Tino Sunseri needs a big game just as much as the Iowa defense does. Both sides are in need of a rebound game. The stage is set for someone to come out with an improvement from their last game.

Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz is not only the Big 12 player of the week, but is also has a 3-to-1 edge in the voting for this weeks Manning Award Quarterback of the week—ahead of quarterbacks like Brock Osweiler of Arizona State and Oregon's Darron Thomas. Osweiler threw for 353 yards in an upset win over Missouri, while Thomas tied a school-record with six touchdown passes in a win over Nevada. Despite all that, Jantz' performance has impressed fans the most in the voting.

Jantz stole the show in a 44-41 overtime win over Iowa this past week. He completed 25-of-39 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns, including a game-tying touchdown pass with 1:17 left to send the game to overtime. Jantz also rushed for another 42 yards, in addition to the 108 yards gained by Cyclone running back Shontrelle Johnson.

The Hawkeyes, no question, will have to worry about Ray Graham, who has averaged 161.5 yards in his first two games. Scarred by what Jantz did to them on Saturday, the Hawkeye defense will be looking to gain a little bit of its swagger back by stopping Sunseri. Sunseri, at the same time, is in desperate need of getting some of his confidence back. He's completed 58.7 percent of his passes in two games, throwing for one touchdown with two interceptions. Both sides of the ball are under pressure to improve in this Saturday's meeting.

"Tino Sunseri is our quarterback," Pitt head coach Todd Graham said. "We've got confidence that he's going to get it done. Has he played well? No, he hasn't played well. He's made some good plays, but he's got to play better and execute our system and I've got a lot of confidence in him. I've seen him do it in practice, I've seen him do it in games, and in this system there's no question I think he can be successful and he's a guy that has come a long way in his work ethic and all those things. So no doubt Tino will be our starting quarterback going down to Iowa and we've got a strong belief in him."

The Hawkeyes did have a big game from linebacker Christian Kirksey—whose 13 tackles, two tackles for losses, one sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery was not enough to keep Jantz from stealing the show.

"We could have had a much better game," Kirksey said after the game. "We need to practice harder for the next game. This is a learning experience and we need to fix what needs to be fixed."

Jantz' four touchdown passes were a career-high, and the 57-yard completion was the longest pass play by a Cyclone player in six years. The 44 points scored against Iowa were the most scored against their in-state rival. Conversely, Pitt is ranked sixth in the Big East with 202 yards passing a game. Their one touchdown pass this season ties for last in the conference. Graham has defended the new system in place, and feels that his players—while struggling in the transition—have the right tools in place to turn things around. The toughest thing will be making that transition against an Iowa team hungry to rebound from a defensive letdown against its in-state rival.

Regardless of which side responds, this week three matchup between Pitt and Iowa is big in the sense that one side of the ball will rebound, while the other will remain a question mark heading into the next game.

"We have to be decisive in the pocket and we have to be decisive in our decision making," Graham added. "It doesn't always go well, but be decisive in what we're doing and execute what we're doing and the exact same thing. I went through in 2007 (in his first year as Tulsa head coach), and it's exactly what we're going through now. What we have to do is just continue to be disciplined and just do what we're coached to do and execute the system and it'll work."


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