When kicking off his weekly teleconference with the Big East media--Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt started off talking about the upcoming opponent. However, the talk quickly shifted back to the Utah game from Thursday night. The Wildcats are coming off a 33-3 win over Central Connecticut State, where they got 197 yards from running back Dontra Peters. Wannstedt is impressed with New Hampshire's offense, particularly quarterback R.J. Toman, who he believes the offense is built around.
"(Toman) has been a starter up there for several years," Wannstedt said. "He's an athlete. He's the guy who makes the offense go. They tackle well (on defense), but (the offense) all starts with the quarterbacks."
When it comes to his own quarterback, Wannstedt could not find enough good things to say about the way Tino Sunseri has not only played, but how he's handled himself since the loss. When the talk shifted to Utah, Sunseri was the first name that came up.
"The last play (interception in overtime), he knew exactly what happened," Wannstedt said. "Some quarterbacks don't understand what went wrong. He was the first guy to say it. He knows he held the ball too long, and should have taken a sack. With young players, young quarterbacks in particular, as long as the curve is there. I'm very confident in him."
Wannstedt noted that his confidence in Sunseri grew as the game wore on. That much was evident in how Pitt's scoring drives went throughout the game. It was not as evident in Pitt's red zone attempts.
The Panthers' first two scoring drives both started inside Utah territory. Pitt's first touchdown came off a Dion Lewis three-yard touchdown run--a drive that lased five plays, 28 yards, and just under three minutes at 2:51. The Panthers worked even harder on its first drive of the fourth quarter, where they went 53 yards in 15 plays, a drive that lasted 7:57. Of those 15 plays, Sunseri completed all three of his passing attempts for 33 yards. He also attempted another pass for Mike Shanahan, which drew a pass interference call.
"No question, he had a good feel for what we were doing, from a standpoint of getting the ball to certain people," Wannstedt said. "Every week he's going to improve. At the beginning of the year, there's no easy way to do it."
After being set up on the 14 yard-line, and despite the increased success Sunseri was having, Pitt ran the ball five more times, was flagged for a false start and a delay of game. The only passing attempt in the remainder of that series was an incompletion at the six yard-line. Sunseri, tried lobbing it up for 6-5 receiver Mike Shanahan at the back of the end zone, who was covered too tightly by linebacker Chaz Walker. The next play, Pitt was called for a delay of game--a penalty which usually falls on the quarterback's shoulders.
The next time the Panthers took the field, It took just four plays to go 72 yards, in a drive that lasted 42 seconds. All four plays were related to Jon Baldwin this time, including the 44-yard touchdown pass. Clearly, Wannstedt was comfortable letting Sunseri take a shot here.
"I was pleased with how he progressed within the game," Wannstedt said. "With that type of pressure, he got hit, he got knocked around, he kept his composure."
The next time the Panthers were in the red zone--which resulted in the game-tying field goal--he threw two incompletions, after hitting Shanahan with a 19-yard pass to get them there. Wannstedt says there was increased confidence in Sunseri as the game wore on, but was the coaching staff lacking confidence from the previous red zone attempt?
"We were very good (in the red zone), we know what we have to do," Wannstedt said. "Last year, we had very few negative plays when we got down in red zone. (Against Utah) We lose three yards, it's a second-and-thirteen, and it's incomplete, and now here you go. Next series, we jump offsides, five-yard penalty, and we're back in a long-yardage passing situation."
It wasn't so much Sunseri, as it was some faults in the rest of the offense. On paper, Pitt was a perfect 4-of-4 in the red zone. Only one of those four scores was a touchdown, and that came off a drive where Pitt started at the Utah 28 yard-line, the result of Antwuan Reed's fumble recovery in the first quarter.
Of Pitt's total red zone plays in this game, they rushed nine times for a total of 13 yards. Sunseri completed 2-of-5 passes for 17 yards, including two incompletions at the end. He threw one incomplete pass intentionally, that was in the vicinity of a receiver--a heads up play to avoid a sack. On top of that, the offense was flagged for penalties three times for 15 yards (false start, delay of game, illegal shift) in the red zone.
"It's not the plays or what we're doing, or the philosophy of scoring points," Wannstedt said. "We hurt ourselves. We went backwards on two different scenarios."
Aside from the loss to Utah--which is still lingering--Wannstedt updated the injury status of Dom DeCicco, who left the game in the second quarter with an apparent hamstring injury. DeCicco missed some time in training camp, and reaggravated the injury on Thursday.
"Dom DeCicco, he's doing fine," Wannstedt said. "I'm not going to get in to day-to-day things, but he's doing fine., better I should say."