Panther Digest publisher Tony Greco's analysis of Pitt's offense heading into Saturday's Compass Bowl:
QB – Tino Sunseri
Sunseri's mission is simply to go out on a high note. He's had his good games (South Florida, UConn, Syracuse), and then there have been the bad ones (Rutgers, Iowa, West Virginia). SMU's defense has been drawing some comparisons to West Virginia's defense—which sacked Sunseri nine times in a 21-20 loss. Pitt may have a different approach on offense, as the result of the coaching switch. Regardless, Sunseri will have to learn how to deal with SMU's pressure.
Brown practiced once this week, but is questionable heading into Saturday's game. He bruised his sternum in the first half of the West Virginia game, and hasn't returned since. One dynamic Brown brought was his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Bennett was one of the most pleasant surprises this year, stepping in for an injured Brown and playing in four games, and starting one. He's not flashy yet, but has been pretty reliable. Still needs some maturing. The same can be said for Davis, except he has shown some explosiveness on kickoff returns.
Shanahan and Street are the two big guns. Shanahan started off with a bang, then his production tailed off towards the end of the season. He can be physical, but based on his size—6-5, 225 pounds—he's not a typical possession receiver. He has the ability to go up and make the catch and stretch the field, but either hasn't been given the opportunity consistently or isn't able to make the grab. Street is more of the big-play threat. He's shown some gamebreaking ability with a 66-yard touchdown catch in the Iowa game. He had three 100-yard games this season including Iowa, Cincinnati and Louisville. He was real strong over the last five games, catching 5 or more passes in four of those games (the other game with 4 catches), and finishing with at least 70 yards in four of those final five games. Jones is a wild card. He's a typical slot receiver, but you might also see him lining up in the ‘Wildcat' formation.
While they're classified as h-backs, each player brings something different to the table. Graham is your prototypical tight end, and might have the best hands on the team. Carswell moved back to receiver towards the end of the season, and is similar to Shanahan—a big target that Pitt would like to see stretch the field. He's made some grabs this season, but needs some maturing. Gonzalez—a converted quarterback—is the most athletic of the three. He switched positions in training camp, and in the Syracuse game, caught his first career touchdown pass. Gonzalez is still maturing to the position, and hasn't quite been consistent, but he has shown flashes of how athletic he can be either in making the catch or getting yards after the catch.
LT – Greg Gaskins
It's arguable that no position coach had it tougher than offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich. Pitt had eight different combinations of starters in 12 games. Saturday's game is slated to be the third consecutive game that Pitt will have the same starting lineup for. Greg Gaskins starting at left tackle is an interesting story. Gaskins won the starting right guard position by default in 2010, then was benched after three games. He's got the right attitude, works hard, he just couldn't get it done. He's played center, right tackle and both guard spots in his career. He was pressed into left tackle in the UConn game in Week Seven, and has started ever since then. Leftwich is very liberal in moving guys around and testing guys at different positions. If he wasn't pleased with Gaskins' efforts, he would have placed someone else in instead.
LG – Ryan Schlieper
Schlieper moved from third team left guard to starter in a week. After starter Chris Jacobson was lost for the season at Iowa, senior right guard Lucas Nix went down in the South Florida game, and was out for the next two months. Schliper responded well, considering he hardly saw the field before this year. He can play either guard position, and responded well to being thrown into the fire. We could also see Cory King here. King was a first-teamer at right guard in the spring, and through training camp. Schlieper worked his way past King from the early part of the season. King did start in place of both Jacobson and Nix earlier in the season.
Turnley is another player who entering his fourth year of duty, hardly saw the field. He's battled injuries throughout his career, and missed the entire spring. Leftwich decided to try him out at center on a whim, and he ended up finding his most consistent offensive lineman all season. Turnley has battled a nagging foot injury, but it hasn't prevented him from missing any games. The shotgun snap is the most important part of this offense, and Turnley gets it down 100 percent.
Nix went down just a few plays into the South Florida game, and would not return until the West Virginia game two months later. He is Pitt's most experienced lineman, with 32 career starts dating back to his sophomore year. Nix started off at right tackle, before moving inside to guard last season. He stands out as a pass protector at tackle, but is also very good at pulling in the run game. Has responded well from the knee injury that interrupted his senior season. Late Thursday, Pitt received word that Nix received three summary offenses for an incident near his home the day after Christmas. Though he was not arrested in the incident, it may affect his status for Saturday. If he is a no-go, Cory King will get the start.
Like Gaskins and Turnley, Gibbs was nothing more than a backup at the beginning of the 2010 season. After the offensive line struggled in its first three games, Gibbs was moved in at right tackle to add a more physical presence. He responded. He started the remaining 10 games last year, and all 12 games this year. He's more of a natural left tackle, but he stays at right tackle because there's no one else with the physical presence in the run game that can do what Gibbs does at right tackle.