Panthers Itching To Rebound

Pitt looks to get over the .500 mark with a win over Pac-12 opponent Utah. More importantly, the Panthers would like to put last week's embarrassing loss to Rutgers behind them.

Coach Todd Graham took full responsibility for the disappointing performance against Rutgers on Oct. 8 but believes in his team and feels they can turn things around, beginning this week against Utah.

"There's not much you can say, other than it's my responsibility to get the team ready to play and obviously we weren't ready to play," he said.

The problems were an offensive line that was weakened by a pair of injuries to the starting guards and far too many mistakes to overcome, including four interceptions, six sacks and nine penalties with four other declined.

But that, Graham said, is behind the team and now it has move forward.

"It's all about us and us maturing and getting ready to play a complete ballgame every week," he said.

The defense has actually pleased Graham, having moved forward from the early days of the season when a lot was new to them. Offensively, however, the passing game has not been able to keep with the ground game being provided by running back Ray Graham, whose next yard gained will be his 900th of this season.

"We have to show some consistency. We have to do a better job being mature and getting ready to play," Graham said.

Graham's transition to a new school such as Rice and Tulsa was easier than it has been at Pitt, but that could be because his system is radically different than what they were used to.

"In the first year of a program you have to establish some maturity," he said. "It takes some time to do that. There are no excuses. Have to go out and play. You better be humble. If not, you'll get humbled."

A week earlier his team was humbled but now, Graham expects, they are ready to come back strongly.

NOTES, QUOTES
--Utah's visit to Pittsburgh makes it the first Pac-12 team to come to town since the Panthers defeated Washington State, 17-13, in Pitt Stadium on Sept. 2, 1995.

--DB Jarred Holley intercepted a pass in the Iowa game and that made him the Big East's active leader in interceptions with 9 for his career.

--Since 2000, Pitt is 41-13 when it has a 100-yard rusher. This season the Panther are 3-1 in that department, accounting for all their victories.

SERIES HISTORY: Utah leads Pitt, 2-0 (last meeting in 2010, 27-24 OT, Utah)

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Pitt brought in Todd Graham to replace Dave Wannstedt mostly to put some pizazz in the offense but that just hasn't happened. Pitt is 76th in total offense, 85th in passing and 70th in scoring. As it always was under the previous coaching staff, the Panthers lean heavily on the run and the play of Ray Graham, who is off to the best six-game start in Pitt history. However, the passing game is lacking and the offensive line has been weakened by injury to the point that last game it gave up six sacks while the quarterbacks were pressed into four interceptions.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: On paper, the defense is better than ranking 68th in the nation and giving up 390 yards a game, but the game is never played on paper. Pitt has been pretty good against the run but was shredded by the passing game early in the year, giving up 1,009 yards in the first three games. Since then that has improved and may actually be developing into a solid secondary. They still need to find a way to rush the passer better. The defense has always come ready to play, giving up only 10 first-quarter points all season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's no question we have a team that can win a championship and we can still do that. We're just making too many mistakes and have too many negative yardage plays." -- Pitt Coach Todd Graham.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Utah at Pittsburgh, Oct. 15 -- Pitt's final non-conference game of the season is a gut check for the Panthers, who have dropped three of their last four games, as well a revenge game for a 27-24 opening loss to Utah last season. The only other time the schools played was in the Jan. 1 20005 Fiesta Bowl when the Utes of Urban Meyer capped a perfect 12-0 season with a 35-7 victory. RB Ray Graham comes in with 899 rushing yards, the best start in school history, but faces a team that ranks 19th nationally, allowing only 99.4 yards per game on the ground.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Utah has been challenged offensively this season, averaging just 24.6 points a game, which is just 85th nationally, but they are strong defensively against the rush, which is Pitt's strength. That leads to two projections. Utah will make life tougher for RB Ray Graham, who has emerged with the injury to Oregon's LaMichael James as the nation's most dangerous runner. To ease that, QB Tino Sunseri has to have an efficient day. The problem is that means he needs far better protection than he had at Rutgers. In what figures to be a low scoring game, punting could be crucial. Pittsburgh's Matt Yoklic had plenty of practice for this test last week, when he punted nine times at Rutgers, averaging a solid 43.3 yards per punt.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Tino Sunseri -- Sunseri's first career start came against Utah last year in an overtime loss. He hit Jon Baldwin on a 44-yard TD strike and then with a two-point conversion to draw the Panthers within a field goal, which they hit to force overtime. His recent memories are not quite that good, being banged around for six sacks by Rutgers and forced into three interceptions. For him to perform well a patchwork offensive line will have to show improvement.

RB Ray Graham -- Perhaps the leading candidate for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back, Graham has 899 yards to rank second behind Oregon's injured LaMichael James. He is the engine that drives Pitt but he needs help from the passing game to be at his best. The 899 yards is best six-game start in Panthers history, seven more yards than the great Tony Dorsett had in his best season. Graham is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield and is actually Pitt's leading receiver.

DE Brandon Lindsey -- This is where the Pitt pass rush has to come from. He is tied for third in the Big East with four sacks and has at least sack in 11 of his past 18 games. Rutgers, however, physically stopped him and the Panthers were unable to apply much pressure, getting just one sack on the afternoon.

ROSTER REPORT
--OG Cory King has started the past three games in place of senior Chris Jacobson, who is out for the season with a knee injury.

--Coach Todd Graham has avoided a quarterback controversy but he did put backup Trey Anderson in when starter Tino Sunseri was having problems moving the team.


Panther More Top Stories