Panthers Working Through Bye Week

Even though they benefitted from a short week earlier this season, with an impressive win over USF on a Thursday night, the Panthers get a much needed bye following two straight losses.

Pitt had just finished suffering a rather dismal home defeat to Utah, 26-14, that gave the Panthers four losses in five games and left them wondering if they can win three of their last five to qualify for a bowl, when safety Andrew Taglianetti admitted that getting away from it all for a while might be the best medicine.

"I think it will be good for our team to go back to the drawing board." Taglianetti said to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review as the Panthers embarked on an off-week before coming back to play at home against Connecticut in a rare Wednesday night nationally televised game on Oct. 26.

Certainly things have not gone as originally drawn up by new Coach Todd Graham, who came to town promoting a "high octane" offense but has not found the right personnel to run it.

The 10-day break will be used to get better in a lot of areas, especially in refocusing on the running game which seems far more capable of creating yards than has a passing game that is completely out of whack in all areas -- protection, receiving and execution by the quarterbacks.

Part of the problem is that Graham was trying to work freshman Trey Anderson in with his starter Tino Sunseri, especially with Sunseri struggling. It didn't work.

"Obviously we have had very inconsistent play that caused us to do some things and make decisions I wouldn't normally make," Graham said. "Tino far and away has the biggest grasp of what we're doing from his experience in the spring and fall. We have to get it out of him. Switching caused more distraction than positives."

And so, Graham plans to force feed Sunseri and hope he can carry the team the rest of the way.

--The Panthers gave up six sacks against Utah, lifting their season total to 34. No other FBS team has allowed more than 25. In defense of the beleaguered linemen, they have been decimated by injuries.

--RB Ray Graham went into the Utah game leading the nation in rushing but fell to third at 134.14 yards a game after being used to carry the ball just 12 times for 46 yards.

--Pitt's two touchdowns against Utah came off special team plays, scoring on a blocked punt and kickoff return.

BYE WEEK MISSION: The bye week mission was stated best by an irritated defensive tackle Chas Alecxih in the Pittsburgh locker room after losing to Utah. "We've got to get better in certain areas," he said. It certainly was no one thing, for sure. The offensive line had to get people healthy, which could happen as G Lucas Nix seems like he will be ready to return. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has to take charge of the team and find a way to get the ball to the wide receivers. Only one wide receiver caught a pass against Utah. Mostly, though, the offensive coaching staff has got to find a way to feature the lone weapon they have, RB Ray Graham, who was taken out of the game by Utah, carrying just 12 times. Defensively the Panthers will work on stopping the pass, ranking 94th in the nation in that department.

LOOKING AHEAD: The second half of the season will be tough and filled with pressure as Pitt comes in 3-4 and needs to win 3 of five games for a 6-6 season and bowl qualification, hardly what was expected when they were selected second to West Virginia in the preseason poll. Coach Todd Graham says the team has not yet given up the goal of winning the Big East title as it has only one loss. "This conference is won in November," he said. "We have to win out. We have to go 5-0." The Panthers do have three home games but its season may hinge around a day after Thanksgiving visit to Morgantown to take on West Virginia, ranked 11th in the AP poll and trying to state a case for membership in the SEC or Big 12. The season will be on the line from Nov. 5-25 when the Panthers play at home against Cincinnati then travel to Louisville and WVU on consecutive weeks.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are starting a new season. We have obviously underachieved but we have the goal of being Big East champion still out there." -- Pitt Coach Todd Graham, remaining optimistic despite a two-game losing streak.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense has been a complete flop, beginning with the quarterback position, which coach Todd Graham inherited from a system totally foreign to what he is trying to run. The result has been that while he stays with quarterback Tino Sunseri as his starter, it is because no one from behind is pushing him, not because of the work he's done. He's tried Trey Anderson, but it hasn't worked out. The offense mustered 120 total yards against Utah. Sunseri and Anderson combined to go 9 of 30 for 50 yards and two interceptions. During the two-game losing streak, Pitt's quarterbacks are 25 of 63 for 181 yards with six interceptions and no touchdowns. The O-line has been depleted by injury and it has showed in pass protection, ranking last in the nation. The receivers have been non-existent. Only RB Ray Graham has provided any real spark, leading the nation in rushing and off to the best five-game start in Pitt history until the Utah game, when he was virtually ignored, being given just 12 carries.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense has not performed up to standards, ranking 90th in the nation in total defense and 94th against the pass. Part of the problem is that they are on the field far too much because the offense has not been in control. The defense has big play potential but really has not come up with plays when it absolutely has needed them. The pass rush, however, has become strong after a slower start and that could change a lot of things.

--Senior G Lucas Nix, who has been out with a knee injury, is expected to return for the Connecticut game, which could help the nation's worst pass protection. He has missed all but two plays in the last three games.

--Pitt will try to get receiver Devin Street back into the flow as a deep receiving threat. Against Iowa he had seven receptions for 138 yards but in the four games since has caught only five balls for 47 yards, being shut out in two of the last three games.

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